Dirt Diet: Why Macaws eat Soil?

Why macaws eat soil? Discover it here!

Geophagy is a word that describes the act of eating earth or soil-like substances like clay. This particular behaviour (dirt diet) is limited to certain species of mammals (even humans fit in this category), birds and invertebrates.

Certainly, this practice is out of our standards, however, there are places where earth comsumption is actively encouraged and not considered an eating disorder, but why? Find out more on this Peru Jungle Trips blog!

Matter of Taste?

Particularly for this article, we’ll try to delve more on how this aspect applies to macaws and why they eat soil, it may be striking to see a flock of birds and other species gathering around mounds to content their need for a dirt diet.

Instead of going for other types of food that are easily relatable to these animals (fruit or nuts) these birds decide to eat dirt out of the called “clay licks” or “collpas”.

A research directed by Donald Brightsmith suggests that the soil in these mounds are necessary as a supply of nutrients that are essential for macaws, sodium being the principal component (the percentage of this substance is 40 times larger than in other regions of the Peruvian country in similar spaces), apart from the calcium and iron that it provides.

Clay licks’ dirt is consumed every day by many bird species like the macaws or certain parrot species, also mammals like deers, capibaras, tapirs and monkeys (howling monkeys and spider monkeys).

Only certain species rely on clay licks' minerals to compliment their diet.
Only certain species rely on clay licks’ minerals to compliment their diet.

A Forced Appetite?

Among the theories that try to answer this phenomenon, Brightsmith’s postulation is that the reason behind this fact is the need to control the toxins from other food (plants and fruit) that these animals consume.

Other reason that might explain this is the lacking of salt in the Amazon region (and therefore a lack of sodium sources). It’s well known that the Amazon in Peru is well apart from the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean. This makes salt finding and consumption particularly hard in this region, yet, the interrogative turns bigger as not all the parrots and macaws are geophages.

Howler monkeys' diet consists on collpas' soil aswell.
Howler monkeys‘ diet consists on collpas’ soil aswell.

Obvious Preys

The mystery behind clay’s consumption is yet to be solved, the indifference from certain species to this mineral adds a layer of complexity to the problem.

Another issue that is carried by this behaviour is related to the commerce of these animals in the black market. Poachers take advantage of macaws and parrots’ need to eat soil to set traps in these areas to capture as many as possible.

The decline of theses species’ population is logycally linked aswell to the difficulty of carrying investigations focused to these intelligent birds. Add the deforestation and the subsequent limitation of their habitat and you have a recipe for chaos here.

Peru Jungle Trips has a solid stand against these practices and encourages law’s enforcement to end with these illegal activities.

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