There are several hundred clay licks along the Napo River in Western Amazonia. A clay lick is a place where birds or mammals come to eat soil. Parrots, macaws, parakeets and a wide variety of other birds come to these spots every day – except when it rains – sometimes traveling up to 20 miles roundtrip. So what’s this about?
Not surprisingly, the birds eat a lot of seeds and nuts from the trees in the rainforest. Many times they eat unripe, young seeds. This creates a problem for the trees, as the flesh of their fruit – not the seeds – is intended to be eaten. In turn, plants often protect their seeds by surrounding them in toxic substances. This is to ensure that the seeds would not all be eaten and that some would have a chance to survive and germinate.
While a PhD student at UC Davis, James Gilardi learned that the birds prefer to eat soil with a high concentration of clay. The negatively charged clay particles attract and bind to the positively charged toxins in the seeds. From there, the compound of clay and toxins are eliminated from the birds’ system. Dr. Gilardi also found evidence that the clay coated the stomachs of the birds, protecting them from the astringent effects of bitter tannins and other toxins found in their diet. These same properties found in the kaolin clay of the Western Amazonia clay licks can be found in calcium bentonite clay. It is well known as a powerful detoxifier from many of today’s environmental hazards such as allergens, herbicides, molds, pesticides, poisons and pathogens.