Scarlet Macaws


Tiskita Biological Reserve, Costa Rica. Deep in the lush jungles of the South Pacific coast of Costa Rica, the forest trees are getting a splash of color. Up until very recently, scarlet macaws were extinct from the area. Due to habitat loss and relentless poaching over the last several decades, only a handful of wild populations remain in Central America, a region once teeming with macaws. However, thanks to the decade-long reintroduction efforts of a team of biologists, a stronghold of scarlet macaws is now starting to repopulate the Pavones and Osa Peninsula regions of Costa Rica.

Bagelparrot has teamed up with Ilona Thewissen and Chris Castles, who were at the helm of one of the most successful breed-for-release programs in the world. For over ten years, they bred and hand-reared baby macaws from a breeding stock of rescued poached birds and ex-pets (the CR government has Chris on speed dial when they find poached or injured macaws). Since 2002, they have released 75 scarlet macaws at the Tiskita Biological Reserve, with a 94% survival rate. Now with a viable population thriving independently of humans in the wild, the released macaws have started having babies of their own (with a 83% breeding success rate). This is an incredible breakthrough in the world of biology and conservation! With a growing population of macaws, poaching is back. Currently, poached chicks confiscated by the government or previously released macaws who get injured have no place to go.

Help us build an aviary so that poached and injured macaws have a chance to be rehabilitated by expert biologists and released to fly free in the wild!


Every feature of the proposed aviary has been designed with the needs of macaws in mind. The main flight aviary will be 10m x 6m, large enough to allow ample room for flight and stimulation. The previous makeshift cage was only 3m x 2m, meant only for emergencies, and two macaws who ended up staying longer during a soft release started plucking out of stress.

With your support, this aviary will be built to last. Constructed of galvanized, rust-resistant metal, it will be durable enough to withstand even the harshest elements of Costa Rica. However, it can also be broken down and re-assembled and moved to a new location if required. The roof will have zinc sheets for rain protection; the rest is open for unobstructed views of the sky (a great resource to learn about local predators). In addition, the exterior will be lined with 1m-tall plates for extra-secure snake-proofing.

Tiskita Biological Reserve

The site of the proposed aviary is on the Tiskita Biological Reserve in the Pavones region. Chris and Ilona have released 75 macaws here here since 2002. Located in the “deep south” of Costa Rica, Tiskita is a nine hour drive from San Jose and two hours away from the closest airport. Situated among tracts of pristine primary and secondary tropical rainforest, the area is one of the most biodiverse places on earth. Still largely untouched by agricultural farming and tourism, it is an ideal location for a viable macaw population. Species common on the reserve include squirrel monkeys, frogs, sloths, iguanas, and of course, scarlet macaws!


The Reintroduction Process

The aim of reintroduction is to create a self-sustaining and genetically-diverse population of macaws in an area. The proposed aviary is necessary for all three steps of the reintroduction process:



Also known as “macaw bootcamp,” macaws stay in the pre-release aviary for up to two months to get used to the local climate, food, and environs (including overhead predators) before release. Biologists will fetch local food plants so the macaws know what to forage for in the wild.



Once the biologists determine a macaw is a good candidate for release, a macaw will be lured into the release box with exciting snacks and allowed to fly to freedom on his own time. Previously released macaws and wild birds will visit these macaws to welcome them into their flock!



Lasting up to a year, this is a crucial time for newly released macaws. Close monitoring is essential at this stage, as macaws that get injured will be taken back to the pre-release aviary for further rehabilitation. Supplementary feedings will also be provided as needed.

The Team

Ilona Thewissen


Chris Castles


Teaming up with former staff of the ARA Project, Bagelparrot is working with the foremost authorities on scarlet macaw introduction. Chris Castles is the co-founder of the original ARA Project, and he, along with a team of passionate biologists including Ilona Thewissen and Jenny Pettigrew, have dedicated their lives to the macaws. Hailing from all over the world – New Zealand, England, and Belgium – they ended up in Costa Rica to fight for the longevity of an entire species on the verge of extinction.

Living at the Alajuela breeding center’s extremely humble accommodations and subsisting on food leftover from the macaws, they have been working for the last decade for less than the Costa Rican minimum wage. They hand raised and doted on every chick; they knew each individual’s temperament, personality, and social ranking. By the time of release, they could name every bird by sight (and still can, 10 years later!). Their intense devotion to the birds was really paying off, and the world was starting to take notice. In November 2013, Chris was featured in PBS Documentary Parrot Confidential. Their grand vision of building a Pacific Coast Macaw corridor was starting to feel like an achievable reality.

Though no longer with the ARA Project, the team is continuing their amazing work. With a decade of experience and a passion still burning to help the macaws, they are starting from the ground up. This pre-release aviary is the first step in ensuring the safety and viability of the previously-released macaws in Tiskita. The next milestone is to build a breeding facility and sanctuary in the Osa Peninsula; help them continue their dream of establishing a permanent thriving population of wild scarlet macaws in Costa Rica.

Start a campaign to fundraise for a rehabilitation aviary for poached and injured scarlet macaws!