Brightsmith spent several months recently in the Amazon rain forests of eastern Peru, where he runs a long-term macaw research project.
He has learned that one reason the macaw populations are declining is due to the popularity of the Aguaje palm. It's highly-sought after by the local people for its fruit ?the nearby city of Iquitos consumes up to 15 tons of the fruit per day.
But the tree is also a frequent home to macaws, who nest in it and who also enjoy eating the fruit.
"Unfortunately, the locals have discovered that the best way to get the fruit is to chop down the whole tree, and these can grow up to 100 feet high," Brightsmith confirms.
"So nesting areas and food sources for macaws are being eliminated."
Other prime macaw nesting grounds are being lost by logging and clearing the land for agriculture, he adds. Brightsmith will return to the area in October and hopes to install collars on numerous macaws and use satellite technology to track their movements and learn more about them.
"We have some macaws here in captivity on campus at the Schubot Exotic Bird Center, but we have much to learn about them in their native habitat," he says.
"We know that they tend to stay with one mate for a long time. But we need to learn more about their breeding habits, their migration routes, more about their diet and many other things. The more we learn about these birds, the better our chances to save them."