21 January 2024

Volcan Masaya

What do you call birds that live in an active volcano?


Recently there have been a number of stories worldwide about volcanoes doing bad things.  In October of last year I posted here about Nicaragua's volcanoes...a stunning 23, all but two of which are in a line winding up the Pacific coast.  Masaya, which last erupted in 2008, is one of several active volcanos in the country.

During a recent visit to Nicaragua I delayed my trip to Bluefields and False Bluff to visit Masaya - both the volcano and the market there.  Volcan Masaya, which is only napping, is in a national park.  At certain times of the day- evening is best - the red of molten lava can be seen; but at all times of the day the smoke from the volcano's smoldering fire is visible...and breathed if the wind's not right or, like, if you hang your head over the fence because you want to see what's 'down there.'  

But gone is the sign, only in English, which is now but a treasured memory of my first visit to the volcano: it read "Please don't jump."

There's a lot of parking and the walkway to the top is well laid out.  And from the cross at the top, the 360-degree view is vastly beautiful.

This wasn't my first trip to either the volcano or its museum.  But it was the first time I became aware of the fact that birds live in the volcano.  Visitors to the volcano catch on pretty fast that the smoke the volcano produces is not like that of a campfire.  When I read about these birds at the museum I realized just how bad the constant smoke is...which makes the fact that for generations a type of parrot has lived in holes along the walls inside the volcanic crater even more remarkable.

The parrot that lives in the volcano is most often referred to as a parakeet - which just means it's a little parrot.  But it has an "unsettled" name history as shown below from wikipedia:

The Pacific parakeet (Psittacara strenuus), known as Pacific conure or Nicaraguan green conure in aviculture[3], is a species of bird in subfamily Arinae of the family Psittacidae, the African and New World parrots. It is found in southern Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua.[4]

Taxonomy and systematics

The Pacific parakeet was for a time placed in the genus Aratinga but from about 2013 has been in its present genus Psittacara.[5][6][4] Its taxonomy is otherwise unsettled. 

The photo below (obviously not taken inside the volcano) shows the sorts of hole that are along the inside walls, holes that are a residue of a volcanic eruption.  I was told at the museum that the parrots who live in the volcano don't build nests or sit on their eggs.  They use the holes that nature has provided...sort of like little warm bird houses. And since I've not visited either at daybreak or near sunset I've not seen the parrots as they leave for, or return from, a day of hunting in the surrounding forests:

However, if you can't make the trip to Masaya, at minute 21:25 in the documentary linked below you can see not only the parrots but the iguanas that hatch in the warm ash within the volcano: 



Note: The video, narrated by Jeremy Irons who struggles with pronouncing Nicaragua, is way long and nothing in it explains why Masaya is considered "The most dangerous volcano in the world" but it's visually stunning