Featured Bird: Mealy Parrot (Amazona farinosa)

Mealy parrots are the largest of the Amazonas (38 – 41cm in length) found on the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica.  They are distinguished from the Red-lored parrots by the absence of the red markings on the forehead and their large white eye ring.  Most amazons can be aggressive but the mealy parrots have a docile temperament and are considered to be the gentle giants of the amazon parrots.

They are found from South Mexico down through Ecuador, Bolivia and Brazil, but its population has declined in its range due to loss of habitat and other human induced pressures.   It is a common to abundant resident of the Osa Peninsula often seen in forest canopy or semi-open areas near forest cover.  In the breeding season they are generally found in pairs or small flocks of 15 to 20 individuals, however, winter roosts have known to contain more than 100 parrots.  Mealy parrots can be raucous in flight but very quiet while feeding unless there are some demanding youngsters around!  Their diet consists of fruits, seeds, arils, buds and flowers and they are known to feed on human crops such as corn as well.  They love to climb and hang around upside down during the day.    They nest in natural cavities and can lay 3 – 4 eggs in a breeding season.  The female incubates the eggs for 24 – 28 days and is fed by the male through regurgitation until the eggs hatch.  He will help feed his nestlings until they leave the nest at about 8 weeks.

Its call is a series of deep squawks.

Listen to Mealy Parrots call:

Environmental Education, Science and Research

A View Inside Tropical Soils

By Samantha Weintraub

PhD Student, University of Colorado, Boulder

Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

When most people wander through a tropical forest, they are awed by the diversity and abundance of plants, mammals and other members of the forest community they see.  While biodiversity is certainly a fantastic feature of tropical landscapes, my interests lie on the darker side of the ecosystem.  Don’t worry, I’m not talking about the force – I’m talking about the soil!  For an ecosystem ecologist, one of the most fascinating aspects of tropical ecology concerns how tropical forests are able to maintain high levels of productivity and diversity over extensive periods of geologic time.  Many tropical forests are located in areas of the globe that have had stable climates for millennia.  While this has enabled the evolution of tremendous diversity of life forms and complex relationships between organisms, it also means tropical soils, the foundations of the forests, are old, deep and highly weathered.  Tropical soils are a dynamic and largely unexplored facet of the tropical landscape.  How are nutrients transformed as they move through the soil matrix?  What enables the maintenance of high productivity in sites with soils depleted in elements critical to life, such as phosphorus?  How do hydrology and topography intersect to control nutrient retention and nutrient export from tropical watersheds?  How does this affect the biota, and how do biota in turn affect elemental cycling?

These are some of the questions I and my fellow lab mates are exploring as part of our dissertation research under the advisorship of Dr. Alan Townsend.  I’m part of the INSTAAR Biogeochemistry Lab at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and we are here in Costa Rica conducting research on a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant.  I’m currently at the Osa Biodiversity Center (OBC) with three of my colleagues from the Townsend/Cleveland (University of Montana) labs for one week, conducting the first of a series of experiments testing hypotheses about nutrient transformations along hydrologic flow paths in a pristine rainforest catchment.  Today, along with the invaluable assistance of a local research technician, Walkom Cabrera, we sampled three distinct topographic positions along a soil catena.  We extracted soil cores up to a meter below the surface, and measured nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions from surface soils from the same locations.  This may be easy to say, but hard to do!  Soils down to a meter are extremely dense, and we used a mallet to pound our soil cores into the earth.  It was hot, sweaty work, but we managed it.  Back at the OBC, we spent the evening extracting dissolved nitrogen (N) compounds from the soil samples using a concentrated salt solution.  At our laboratory in Boulder, I will further analyze properties of these soils that will elucidate controls over nutrient transformations within the deep soil profiles of this dynamic tropical forest.

The findings of this research will help us understand the role tropical forests play in the cycling of critical nutrients important for global climate and energy balance.  And studying the biogeochemistry of this amazing place does have its perks.  Howler monkeys are my favorite alarm clock, sunsets at Piro beach set the sky on fire, and the macaws are never out of sight (or hearing for long).  Conversations at dinner with conservation biologists, herpetologists, ethologists and nature enthusiasts are illuminating and exciting.  I’m anxious to analyze the results of all this hard work, and can’t wait to return for my next visit to follow up with more interesting questions surrounding tropical biogeochemistry here on the Osa Peninsula.


Threats to the Osa’s Jaguar Population

Finding solutions and alternatives for human and feline coexistence

Since mid 2006, Aída Bustamante and Ricardo Moreno, researchers of the Wildcat Conservation Program, have worked hand in hand with FOO on applied research, education and involvement with key actors (cattle ranchers, hunters, local children and youth, ecolodges, local authorities and NGOs). We recognize the need to address the livelihoods of local human populations so that they are in a better position to care about jaguars.

Camera Trap Photo of Jaguar eating a sheep on Osa Peninsula

The long-term conservation of jaguars and their ecosystem will not be possible with scientific research alone.


Attacks on domestic animals by large cats have triggered retaliation; and at  least twelve jaguars have been killed in the last two years in the Osa peninsula. Hence, the Wildcat Conservation Program decided to sell T-shirts and raise funds to compensate people that have lost their animals by jaguar or puma attacks. So far, we are the only such compensation program in Central America and have paid for 16 animals up to now, including domestic pigs, sheep and calves.

Aida Bustamante and Ricardo Moreno in Panama with Dr. Hirsch

Aida Bustamante and Ricardo Moreno in Panama with Dr. Hirsch

Ricardo Moreno, Dr. Ben Hirsch, Aída Bustamante and a male ocelot in Barro Colorado Island in Panama. Ricardo and Aída went to Panama to collaborate with Dr. Hirsch and Dr. Roland Kays, trying to capture ocelots and tag them with GPS radio collars to detect behavioral changes. They managed to capture two females and a juvenile male, which indicates a high capture rate for the species across its range of distribution. The idea is to use this technology in the near future in the Osa Peninsula.

Jaguars on the Osa Peninsula represent an important isolated population of this ecologically vital species. The long term survival of this local population is uncertain. One important way to help ensure their future would be the establishment of a protected biological corridor between Corcovado National Park on the peninsula and Piedras Blancas National Park on the mainland. Despite years of research and effort by an international group of environmental organizations, this wildlife corridor has not been established. An increase in land development for vacation homes is driving up land values in the lands within and around the Golfo Dulce Forest reserve, threatening Jaguar habitat.

The total number of Jaguars on the Osa is unknown. A study on Corcovado Park published in 2007 suggested through extrapolation, a density of around 30-40 individuals in the area of the park. However, a number of factors make estimation difficult.

Recently Aida responded to a supporter’s question on the number of Jaguars on the Friends of the Osa Facebook page with the following:

“It is really hard to say a “number” because there are not studies for the whole Osa Peninsula and it is not recommended to extrapolate the data, because the conditions (habitat, prey availability, poaching, etc) are very different–even in this small area. But we did a really intensive study in 2007 in the Matapalo-Corcovado area and we found 25 ocelots, 22 pumas and 4 jaguars. Sadly, people still kill them a lot (we know that at least 12 in less than 2 years), mainly when jaguars predate on livestock or domestic animals, when natural prey is scarce in the forest due to poaching.”

Since availability of food limits the population, the Osa can only support so many Jaguars. This makes the loss of the twelve animals Aida mentions a major impact on the total population. Our efforts are vital because the next several years will prove crucial to the Osa Peninsula’s Jaguars.

To support the Wildcat Conservation Project, please visit the FOO website and make a donation.


Featured Bird: Chestnut-mandibled Toucan (Ramphastos swainsonii)

friends of the osa Chestnut-mandibled Toucan on osa peninsula copywrite Sabine Bernert 2010The largest and possibly the most raucous of the five toucan species found in Costa Rica the Chestnut-mandibled Toucan is a common inhabitant of the Osa Peninsula.  Its characteristic calls and large yellow and chestnut colored bill are unique to this bird and is only one of two toucan species found on the peninsula.   You can usually find them in forested and semi-open areas and trees in clearings feeding mainly on fruit and an occasional insect, lizard, snake or bird nestling.  Toucans will commonly feed their mate. It is typical to find them gathering in emergent trees at dusk and dawn repeating their call incessantly hopping from limb to limb making sure everybody knows they are there.  They bathe in hollowed out cavities high up in the trees where water has accumulated and nest in tree cavities or old woodpecker holes from January to June.   This photo was taken on the Friends of the Osa property at the Greg Gund Conservation Center, in a small clearing within secondary rainforest.

Chestnut-mandibled Toucan call :

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