Hyacinth Macaw

The Hyacinth macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus) is the largest flying bird from the parrot family (Psittacidae), and is around 1 metre long measured from the tip of its beak to the end of the tail. It can be found in three main areas of Brazil: east Amazonia, Gerais do Manhão, and Pantanal do Mato Grosso, as well as in eastern Bolivia and Paraguay. In those regions Hyacinth macaws can find their main food source, the fruits of palm trees (namely Attalea phalerata and Acrocomia aculeata). Hyacinth macaws have a beautiful cobalt blue colour, bare yellow skin around its lower mandible, and black underwings [1, 2]. These striking features combined with an innate charisma makes it very popular, having become a tourist attraction in the Pantanal.

Acrocomia aculeata fruit, the yummiest of them all. Photo by © 2006 Carla Antonini (Autoría propia.) [CC BY-SA 2.5 ar (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5/ar/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

These features are also a downside, as illegal trade has taken around 10,000 birds from the wild just during 1980s, not only to be traded as pets but also to use its feathers as decoration, leading this species to become endangered. Fortunately, today this practice is in decline. This lovely bird is not yet safe from danger: the continuous destruction of habitat for cattle-ranching and hydroelectric power stations has contributed to the species decline. This is mainly due to the destructions of manduvi trees (Sterculia apetala) where Hyacinth macaw makes its nest.

A pair of Hyacinth Macaws and their nest in Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil. Photo by Geoff Gallice from Gainesville, FL, USA (Hyacinth macaws) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Not only do they have to compete with other macaws for nesting sites, but there are also other animals that use these trees for the same purpose. Even more problematic is that only trees older than 60 years produce cavities large enough to be used as nesting sites for the macaws. Not only that, but a study performed by Pizo et al. [3] suggests that the availability of the nesting sites are dependent on its major nest predator, the Toco toucan (Ramphastos toco), to disperse the seeds of manduvi trees.

Toco toucan, an example of complex interspecies interaction. Photo by cp channel uploaded by benjli (http://www.flickr.com/photos/cpchannel/221158822/) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Due to increased public awareness lead by researchers and educators, the Hyacinth macaw now stands a better chance of survival, having been downlisted from endangered into vulnerable in 2014 by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species [4]. There is an ongoing project in the Pantanal do Mato Grosso denominated “Hyacinth Macaw Project” (Projecto Arara Azul in Portuguese) aiming to protect this species in their natural habitat, perform biological research and provide environmental education [2]. This project was started in 1990 by Dr. Neiva Guedes, after she saw the majesty of 30 hyacinth macaws in the wild, and afterwards learned about their endangered status. In 1999 WWF-Brazil became a great partner of the project running up to this day [5].

A happy Hyacinth Macaw couple. Photo by Ltshears (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


[1] http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=1543

[2] http://web.archive.org/web/20021111023725/http:/www.wwf.org.br/english/informa/sitearara_projeto.htm

[3] Marco Aurélio Pizo, Camila I. Donatti, Neiva Maria R. Guedes, Mauro Galetti, Conservation puzzle: Endangered hyacinth macaw depends on its nest predator for reproduction, Biological Conservation, Volume 141, Issue 3, March 2008, Pages 792-796

[4] http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/summary/22685516/0

[5] http://www.projetoararaazul.org.br/arara/Home/OProjeto/tabid/53/Default.aspx

Feauted photo: Hyacinth Macaw, saying hello to visitors. Photo by Sunira (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


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