Casa Lapa Restoration Project

Casa Lapa Restoration Project

 Patrick Dunn

  Patrick Dunn is the co-owner of Ave Azul de la Osa, located in Aguas Buenas, Osa.  You may reach him at

TURISMO, Ifigenia Garita


Patrick Dunn with half the nest boxes installed within the Ave Azul Area

With a historic continuous range from Southern Mexico to Panama, the Scarlet Macaw, Ara macao cyanoptera, now finds itself in a range reduced to isolated pockets of its former territorial expanse.

For years it has been widely known that the majority of the species now occurs in this form of checker-boarded habitat throughout Central America with a preponderance of the proven breeders in Costa Rica, particularly the Osa Peninsula.  Locally abundant, due to environmental pressures on the forest these birds are now in real need of suitable nesting sites.


Karen Leavelle – Biologist and Project Manager

So, when Ave Azul de la Osa was approached by the Blue Moon Fund ( a Washington-based conservation organization and its resident ornithologist and project director, Karen Leavelle, to provide technical assistance, needless to say, we were eager to support this effort.

I have been breeding many species of macaws in captivity for more than 30 years and observing them in the wild for equally as long. As a result, I have learned much about the breeding biology of the species.

Although the bird appears stable and quite common locally within its present range in the Osa Peninsula, it is still in need of some real conservation work.




Nest Box and Howler Monkey

Questions to be answered regarding the project first had to be asked. One of the more interesting posed to me was:  “Why do this when the jungle appears chock full of trees in which to nest?¨ Truth is, and research confirms it’s true:  the birds prefer to nest in only about a dozen or so species. And on the Osa, at least, many of the preferred spots are already claimed by long-time breeding pairs.

But beyond this, many trees are lost to the elements. Trees age and are subject to high winds and lightning, disease, and to tree-cutting, particularly illegal logging.  So with every new season’s offspring coming up and approaching maturity, newly-formed pairs compete for suitable nesting sites.   And our barrel nests provide important options for these birds.  In my mind one cannot provide too many nesting barrels if we want to see the species recover fully and expand to reclaim parts of its former range.

 Tree climber placing the Nest box into a tree

Tree climber placing the Nest box into a tree

Issues of key importance in this effort include:  optimal barrel size, nesting substrate quality and quantity, amenable tree species, direction and pitch of placement with respect to prevailing wind directions and weather patterns, and others. Every new site in fact presents its own set of challenges.

The grant provided for the purchase of 20 35-gallon barrels.  I have used this size for many years on my own farm successfully.  All are washed thoroughly, primed and painted forest green. An entrance hole of 7 inches square is cut about 22 inches from the base. Several holes in the bottom allow for air circulation and drainage of incidental moisture.  A piece of hard guava wood 1.25 inches in diameter and 24 inches in length is placed inside the entrance to enable fledgling juveniles to exit safely.  Once the barrel nest is ready, we depend on an experienced tree climber with specialized climbing and safety gear and insurance that we cover to complete the installation.

Nest box project – Climbing the trees to set up the nest boxes

Nest box project – Climbing the trees to set up the nest boxes

Suitable locations had to be identified first by visiting and talking with land owners, ranchers and eco-lodges who may want to be part of such an important project. Starting in nearby Carate and the forest reserve bounding Corcovado National Park, we began working our way back around the peninsula in the direction of Puerto Jimenez.  It was important to locate trees in close proximity to commonly used food trees but also available for close observation by property owners to make notes. Considerations such as occupation by other species like black-bellied tree ducks (Dendrocygna autumnalis) which like the nests, were also made.  Primates, woodpeckers, toucans and insects all raise their own concerns as well.   A simple wasp’s nest, for instance, suppresses the curb appeal for the average macaw couple.

Local enthusiasm and interest has led to high participation rates, and all are hopeful for success of the project. Similar undertakings are currently finding success in Northern Costa Rica, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago and Puerto Rico. In some cases birds’ interest in the nesting barrels takes up to three years to exceed their suspicion and to be capitalized by nesting birds. There are never any guarantees in a project such as this, but the birds are naturally curious and quick to investigate the barrels, and that is encouraging. Because of the fact that there is such a stable population of scarlet macaws in the peninsula, time is on the birds’ side.

If you would like to be part of this endeavor and take part in its future expansion, contact us at Ave Azul de la Osa.  We look forward to inviting you to “Adopt a Lapa” with your donation to underwrite a barrel nest.

Along that line, a big SHOUT OUT is in order to Dos Pinos Corporation for its recent donation of six nest barrels.  Thank you, Dos Pinos, on behalf of the welfare of the birds that are one of this nation’s greatest icons.

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