Macaw populations have declined significantly over the past decades. The main causes are illegal poaching for the pet trade and the loss of mature forest habitat, which they rely on for feeding and nesting. MRN's vision is to see a future with thriving parrot populations in healthy, connected forests, across their former ranges. This field program is of crucial importance for understanding the populations trends in the wild to help assess conservation action needed.
The role of the volunteer field biologist is to help our field team leader and our program manager to monitor Costa Rica’s wild macaws. This includes extensivefieldworkto locate, monitor, track and support breeding pairs and their offspring in order to collect data andimprove rates of successful reproduction. During the non breeding season it involves monitoring known and finding new roosts.
Part of the role will take place in the rainforest of Sarapiqui, working with the wild endangered Great Green Macaw (Ara ambiguus), and part will take place in the dry forest of Punta Islita, where we run a reintroduction program for Scarlet Macaws (Ara macao). A rotational schedule will be put in place so applicants spend approximately 2/3 of their time in Sarapiqui and 1/3 in Punta Islita. This arrangement is not possible for applicants who apply for a positions of less than six months.
The field biologist might also contribute to population counts, mapping projects, reintroductions and other additional research throughout their stay. Successful applicants will receive orientation training and will have the support of specialists where necessary, however much of the work will be carried out independently, thus a high level of self-reliance and motivation is required. In addition to fieldwork, the field assistantis expected to help out in other areas of the organization as the need arises.
Field assistant’s duties:
The work of the field biologist will vary throughout the year and according to location. The below overview shows examples of what the work may be like throughout the year:
At the Sarapiqui field station with the Great Green Macaws:
- Locating nest sites through assessment of historical data, personal observations, tracking bird movements, conversation with locals, and the development of new leads.
- Monitoring nesting activity and keeping detailed notes of observations. This will require waiting for long periods of time in remote locations without getting distracted.
- Collecting nest data and biological samples. This is usually done through single rope access climbing technique.
- Intensive monitoring of active nests
Reacting to emergencies such as downed fledglings or injured adults.
- Locating roost sites for the annual count by talking with locals and ground-truthing reports (a good level of Spanish is needed)
- Helping to conduct the annual roost count
- Conducting general site maintenance and project development tasks. These may be assigned depending on our current needs and the skills and abilities of volunteers.
- Conducting nest maintenance and nest box building and installation
At the Punta Islita reintroduction center for Scarlet Macaws
- Supporting care for the Scarlet Macaws and preparations of their life in the wild.
- Getting to know the captive birds that are due to be released, and their behaviour, through pre-release observations.
- General maintenance or site/project development tasks
- Locating and intensive monitoring of active nests
- Reacting to emergencies such as downed fledglings or injured adults.
- Locating and monitoring communal roost sites
- Building and installing nest boxes
Supporting care for the Scarlet Macaws and preparations of their life in the wild.
Hours of work:
The field assistant is expected to work at least 5 days a week, following a flexible time schedule which is guided by the behaviour of the birds. For example, this might be from 4.30am until 6pm, with the possibility of a mid-day break.
Duration of position:
The position runs year round and we require a minimum of one month, though preference is given to those who can stay for at least six months. Upon arrival at either of the two sites, training is provided along with help to better understand the landscape of the work. Later during the program, the volunteer will be applying their acquired knowledge and conducting fieldwork more independently.
The successful applicant:
- will be able to demonstrate a commitment to, and wants to pursue a career in, science based wildlife conservation;
- has animal handling experience;
- has fieldwork experience;
- has an independent work attitude and is a self-starter;
- is comfortable being away from family and friends for long periods of time;
- enjoys being outside and is not put out by extreme weather and temperatures;
- is happy to live communally in isolated and rustic accommodation, with limited electricity and network connectivity;
- is experienced and confident in their self-reliance skills.
- Full, manual transmission drivers license
- Basic level of spoken Spanish
- Basic motorbike qualification such as a CBT, or overseas equivalent if not from the UK.
- A high level of physical fitness
- Driving with care and confidence on roads where standards of driving can be low.
- Driving off-road on incredibly difficult terrain.
- A degree at BSc. level or above in a biological science or other relevant field
- Rock or tree climbing for either work or recreation. Knowledge of single rope access technique is beneficial.
- Off-road driving, particularly though deep mud and water saturated terrain.
- Wildlife handling, particularly large birds.
- First aid training. Up to date qualification is beneficial.
- Full motorbike license
- High level of self-reliance such as previous fieldwork in developing countries, gold level Duke of Edinburg (UK), army cadets/OTC etc.
Essential personal qualities:
- Dependable and responsible
- Hard working, with early starts and late ends to the working day not being a problem
- Motivated and positive with a desire to contribute
- A passion for wildlife and nature conservation
- Flexible, friendly, patient and optimistic
- A sense of humor is helpful
- Great opportunity to travel and experience Central America, off the beaten track and away from the tourist traps.
- A chance to put all the theoretical knowledge gained throughout your studies to work by getting your hands dirty with real wildlife conservation fieldwork.
- An unparalleled sense of satisfaction from supporting a genuine non-profit wildlife conservation organisation. You will become part of a team that aims to create a sustainable situation for an animal that is currently in great danger of extinction.
- Real, hands-on, in-situ conservation experience and the satisfaction that comes with working closely with highly endangered species.
- Increased understanding and appreciation of different values and lifestyles.
- Increased skills in creative problem-solving and time management.
- Opportunities to work, and network, with avian and wildlife conservation specialists.
- Learn and improve skills such as rope climbing techniques, bird ringing, map reading and using GIS software.
- Taking advantage of opportunities and learning broader conservation skills that can then be applied throughout the organization.
- A recognition certificate may be provided if placement is completed successfully.
All international and national travel costs to initially get to the site are the responsibility of the applicant. We provide free accommodation and utilities for all applicants who stay for a minimum duration of 6 months. For volunteers staying less than 6 months, we ask for a monthly contribution of $300 for accommodation and utilities. All team members buy and prepare their own food, and for this we recommend you budget for at least $40 per week, or more if you like luxuries. Comprehensive insurance cover for the entire stay is a must, and it should be arranged and paid for by the applicant.