The brightly colored macaws of the Amazon basin in Peru display an unusual behavior: They gather in the hundreds on steep walls of red clay for a salty snack. It’s one of the most dazzling sights, especially for bird lovers. Here’s what you need to know about experiencing this natural phenomenon.
What Is a Clay Lick?
Clay licks are typically steep walls of red clay exposed by erosion along the riverbanks of the western Amazon basin. In what is one of science’s great mysteries, hundreds of parrots and parakeets flock to these to gather and eat the clay. Some researchers theorize that the birds use the mineral-rich clay to augment a diet low in sodium, which is lacking in this area of the Amazon. Others think the clay helps to neutralize toxins absorbed from eating certain plants.
Where to Go
The southern and western Amazon rain forests have the highest concentrations of clay licks anywhere in the region. One of the largest, the Chuncho clay lick, sits in the heart of the Tambopata National Reserve. Others can be found near the Manu Wildlife Center, the Heath River Wildlife Center, Refugio Amazonas Lodge, and the Posada Amazonas Lodge.
How to Go
The most convenient way to see this colorful spectacle is to take a day trip or overnight tour from Puerto Maldonado. In as little as half a day, visit a clay lick within Tambopata National Reserve and stop at a small lake to fish for piranhas. Guests with more time can opt for a 2-, 3-, or 4-day tour for the chance to visit macaw licks, hike through the jungle, soak up the views of Sandoval Lake, and possibly spot monkeys, peccaries, capybaras, tapirs, and plenty of tropical birds.