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Monday, September 26, 2022

Non-native blue-and-gold macaw pays unexpected visit to UF scientists

Arara McAraraface, as it’s been dubbed, made its Twitter debut

<p>After UF scientists encountered the macaw, a Twitter account popped up with the username @UF_Macaw.</p>

After UF scientists encountered the macaw, a Twitter account popped up with the username @UF_Macaw.

UF tropical ecology professor Emilio M. Bruna thought his ears had deceived him. What was that distinct squawking from outside his window? It couldn’t be the macaw he believed it to be, he decided.

“I thought it might have been some construction noise,” Bruna said. “Or maybe it's just some weird, angry crow in the tree.”

But it wasn’t just a pesky crow: Eight tropical avian specialists and several birders at UF had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity when a rare blue-and-gold macaw perched itself on a tree outside of the Tropical Ecology and Conservation Lab on Newell Drive Tuesday morning.

Others in the building had also heard the call — some of them having done fieldwork with macaws in the past. Eventually, someone in the lab was overcome with curiosity and walked out to investigate, Bruna said.

After confirming the bird was a macaw, Bruna took to Twitter to document the situation.

“There is a macaw in the tree outside my office on the ⁦@UF⁩ campus and yes you read that correctly, one of Bruna’s tweets read.

Macaws are not native to Gainesville, but they do have a large documented range and have been seen as far north as Sweden, Bruna wrote in a tweet. In their native regions of Central and South America, they are known as guacamayas or arara.

Blue-and-gold macaws are listed as “Least Concern,” meaning they are not endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List. However, the illegal pet trade and habitat loss threaten populations as Amazonian deforestation continues. Miami-Dade County is home to a small-breeding population of blue-and-gold macaws – most of them escaped pets, according to a Miami Hurricane report.

Bruna labeled the bird “Arara McAraraface” in one of his tweets, excited about the attention his social media posts were getting as they were reshared on different platforms like the Alachua County Rare Bird Alert Facebook group.

A Twitter account also popped up after Bruna’s tweets gained attention: @UF_Macaw, which has garnered 83 followers and writes tweets in between squawks.

“LADAPO!! LADAPO!! BWAK,” one tweet reads, in reference to UF’s controversial hire of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo to a professor position.

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Between 15 and 20 people stopped to investigate what the commotion was all about, Bruna said, but none had the experience necessary to handle macaws.

Eventually, Carly Fankhauser, a 26-year-old UF wildlife ecology and conservation graduate student, called Avian Addiction, a local exotic pet shop, hoping staff would safely capture the bird.

Upon arrival, Savannah Stevens, the 22-year-old store manager, and her father Larry Boice, the store owner, played blue-gold macaw calls from their phones to entice the bird to fly down, but the strategy didn’t work.

“Sometimes we'll bring another bird out if we know that they’re used to being around birds,” Stevens said.

Bruna, Fankhauser and Stevens weren’t certain where the macaw came from. However, they had a theory: It’s likely an escaped pet.

The last resort was to catch the bird, so Amy Boice, Larry Boice’s wife and co-owner of Avian Addiction, began calling UF Facilities Services and the Gainesville Fire Department, to no avail. They then tried Hoyer’s Express, a local tree service business that provides pet rescues free of charge.

A team of arborists from Hoyer’s Express showed up with a crane around 6 p.m., but once they got close, the bird spread its wings and flew into McCarty Woods where it continued to soak in the golden-hour sun, Sankhauser said.

Last year, a large section of McCarty Woods was threatened with partial clearing. When the bird made the woods its temporary nesting place, Bruna said he used the opportunity to remind his Twitter followers how the woods are an essential greenspace for the wildlife and biology departments.

“All those departments take classes in there to learn techniques or study how to collect from trees or identify plants,” he said.

The macaw doesn’t pose a threat to passersby, Bruna said.

“He was just up there relaxing, scratching his foot a little bit,” Fankhauser said. “He's definitely doing OK.”

The bird was last heard Wednesday morning at 8:25 a.m., Bruna said in a tweet. Later, he noticed a My Lost Pet Alert post from a few days ago written by a Gainesville bird owner who lost their blue-and-gold macaw, named Nalu.

For now, Arara McAraraface, or maybe Nalu, has shacked up in the McCarty Woods. The bird’s fans will have to wait with anticipation to see where it goes next.

Contact Fernando at ffigueroa@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @fernfigue.

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Fernando Figueroa

Fern is a junior journalism and sustainability studies major. He previously reported for the University and Metro desks. Now, he covers the environmental beat on the Enterprise desk. When he's not reporting, you can find him dancing to house music at Barcade or taking photos on his Olympus.


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