Dr. Donald Brightsmith

Macaw Project Lead


Donald Brightsmith did his PhD in Manu, Peru, and has been involved in parrot and macaw research ever since. He took over the Tambopata Macaw Project in 1999. Since then he has led the project from strength to strength and published a host of ground breaking papers on various aspects of macaw breeding, reintroduction and clay lick ecology. He has been on hand to teach, inspire and lead scores of Peruvian and international students and volunteers. Previously with Duke University, he made the move to Texas A&M in 2005.

Then he moved full time to Tambopata Research Center, where they’ve spent the past fifteen years studying macaw clay lick, nesting, and feeding habits. He also believe in the importance of training the next generation of field biologists and conservationists and integrating naturalists from all walks of life into the scientific community.  The Macaw Project has trained more than 300 students and amateur biologists at the Tambopata Research Center.


Dr. George Olah’s Wikipedia entry for the Tambopata Macaw Project summarizes our goals and achievements:

“ The principal aim of the Tambopata Macaw Project is to study the various aspects of the ecology of large macaws and parrots to help better understand the interactions among clay lick use, food supply, breeding season, breeding success, abundance, and movements.

A great interest to the project is that clay lick use by large macaws at TRC was very low in 2009 due to the changes in vegetation and soil conditions. However, in early 2010 the Peruvian government, together with the members of the research project managed the clay lick to help restore the large macaw usage. As a result, there is a unique opportunity to study the same populations of macaws both with and without clay lick use.

Other specific project objectives include:

  • Determine if food abundance or clay lick use is more closely tied to nest occupancy and nesting success.
  • Determine if clay lick use is correlated with parrot abundance.
  • Determine how large macaw nest success varies with relation to food supply and climate.
  • Document the nutritional content of parrot foods in the forest to better understand the role of clay lick in the diet of macaws and parrots.
  • Determine the health status of adult and young parrots to use this information to help manage parrots in captivity. “

Our Tambopata Macaw Project research assistants monitor clay-lick activity year round, in addition to much other work. PhD candidate Jorge Leon, has placed camera traps at four sites on the clay lick in order to compare how effective they vis-a-vis our research assistants. We want to pit you against research assistants, in an effort to see if we can outsource this job to the internet. Count parrots and macaws on these photos and earn a steep discount on a trip to see clay licks and nesting macaws at Tambopata.

Follow his Publications

View my profile on:

google-scholar researchgate youtube-video