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Species

Hyacinth macaw

(Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus)

Characteristics: Hyacinth macaws are social birds that live in families, bands or groups. They are rarely found alone in the wild. They are conspicuous birds and have a certain fidelity to feeding grounds and nesting grounds. Juveniles and non-reproductive couples gather at sites called dormitories, which, in addition to providing protection, seem to function as veritable “information exchange centers.” They are among the most intelligent birds.

Size: Length: up to 1 m (from tip of beak to tip of tail). the world’s largest species of the Psittacidae family. Weight: Adults, up to 1.3 kg; but chicks can reach up to 1.7 kg during the peak weight period.

Coloration: Cobalt-blue plumage, gradient from the head to the tail; the undersides of the wing- and tail-feathers are black. It has intense yellow coloration around the eyes (eyerings), eyelids and bare skin around the base of the jaw. Its beak is large, solid, curved and black, nearly forming a circle along with the head. Its thick black tongue is also noteworthy, due to the yellow band on the sides.

Status

The hyacinth macaw is an endangered species in Brazil (MMA, 2003), listed in Appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and vulnerable according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Source: IUCN

Image gallery

Geographical Distribution

Formerly common in many parts of Brazil, today it is found in the Pantanal region, covering parts of Bolivia, Paraguay and Brazil, in the states of Mato Grosso do Sul and Mato Grosso as well as in the North of Brazil (in the states of Amazonas and Pará) and in the region of “Gerais” (including parts of Maranhão, Bahia, Piauí, Tocantins, and Goiás). Unfortunately, there is not enough information to state whether hyacinth macaws form a single population, interconnected and crossbreeding among each other, or whether they are disconnected, geographically separated, forming three populations: Pantanal, Amazonia and “Gerais.” In recent studies developed by the Department of Genetics and Evolutionary Biology of the University of São Paulo’s Biosciences Institute, in partnership with the Hyacinth Macaw Project and others, different markers were found that suggest a variation in the population’s genetic composition. These studies are currently being expanded to confirm whether or not this information is valid.

Habitat

In the Pantanal region, they are found in open areas, in forests with palm trees, while their nests are located at the edge or in the interior of mountain ranges and copses, as well as in open areas for pasture. In the Pará region, it uses rainforests, preferring floodplains rich in palm trees. In the drier regions (Tocantins, Piauí, Maranhão and Bahia), it is common to find them in seasonally dry areas, preferring the plateaus and valleys of rocky cliffs; in this region it nests in hollows of palm trees (Tocantins), emerging trees (Pará), or in openings in the cliff faces (Piauí).

Behavior

In the wild, hyacinth macaws can be seen flying or more often walking on the ground, hanging from the bunches of fruits in palm trees, or perching on dry branches of the trees, or on fence posts and corrals.

They are found in groups, or companies, consisting of 10 to 30 individuals, especially in feeding areas and in places known as dormitories (for resting and sleeping), as well as in breeding pairs. When these bands are observed, we can verify the high socialization (interaction) between the individuals. It is very common to observe the macaws vocalizing (seeming as though they were talking to each other), preening (one individual scratching or cleaning the feathers on the other), and playing with each other and with the branches, flowers and leaves of the trees they are perched on. In the reproductive season, it is possible to observe the couples feeding and flying together, they are generally loyal to their mating partner and share the task of taking care of the eggs and chicks.

Food

Hyacinth macaws are one of the most specialized parrots in terms of diet, consisting basically of palm seeds, which they can easily break with their powerful beaks. In the Pantanal region, they feed on acuri palm (Scheelea phalerata) and bocaiúva palm (Acrocomia aculeata). In the Pará region, they feed on inajá palm (Maximiliana regia), babassu palm (Orbiguya martiana) and tucumã palm (Astrocaryum sp). In dry regions, they feed on licuri or catolé palm (Syagrus coronata), piassava palm (Attalea funifera), buriti palm (Mauritia vinifera), as well as Orbiguya eicherii. They are most often seen feeding on the ground, whether in the field or in the vicinity of farm houses. In the latter case, they are usually feeding on acuri palm nuts, the mesocarp (pulp) of which has already been stripped off by other animals, especially cattle and other wildlife. In the fruit-bearing period of bocaiúva palms, they are seen feeding directly on the bunches in the trees.

They usually feed in groups as a way of increasing protection. There is always one individual serving as a look-out, which – at any strange noise or movement – screeches loudly and the macaws all fly away. Foraging times are most often in the early morning, between 6:00 and 10:00 am, and in the late afternoon, between 2:30 and 5:00 pm.

Nesting sites

Hyacinth macaws do not seem to select nests with standardized characteristics (such as shape and size of the cavity, orientation of openings, etc.), but show preference for trees that stand out from the vegetation, located at the edges of mountain ranges or copses, and with more accessible cavities.

In the Pantanal region, 90% of the nests are found in Panama trees. These trees with thick trunks and soft hearts (interior) facilitate the formation of the nest. Hyacinth macaws are secondary diggers. They take advantage of small cavities opened by woodpeckers, termites or fungi, as well as places where branches have broken off, to enlarge the cavity, line it with sawdust, and build their nests. Based on this characteristic, they can be called environmental engineers. When building their nests, macaws end up making nests for other species such as toucans, hawks, owls, Muscovy ducks, and others. In areas surrounding the Pantanal (in the region of Aquidauana and Rio Negro) and in Piauí (in Chapada das Mangabeiras), hyacinth macaw nests have been found in openings of rocky cliffs. In the Pantanal region, they have accepted and have reproduced in artificial nests made of wooden boxes, placed by the Hyacinth Macaw Project.

Most nests can be reused from year to year. They always cover the base of the nest with sawdust that they pinch off from the tree itself. This causes the base of the nests to become deeper and deeper. The Project once found a nest whose base was four meters from the opening. In this case, the chick was unable to leave, being trapped inside the nest for a year, fed by its parents until researchers intervened, opening a window closer to the base of the nest. The chick was removed, but was unable to fly because it had damaged tail and wing feathers; so it was taken to the Campo Grande Rehabilitation Center (CRAS) until it recovered.

Reproduction

After the couple is formed, they spend most of their time together sharing all the tasks. In July, they begin to inspect and renovate the cavities for the breeding period that is just beginning. The peak of reproduction can vary, but in general it occurs from September to October, and the rearing of the chicks can extend until January or February the following year. At this time, it is common to see disputes for nests between macaws and other species. Around 17 other species occupy artificial nests developed by the Hyacinth Macaw Project. The reproduction rate is low, and some couples only reproduce once every two years.

The female usually lays from one to three eggs, on different days; the average number of eggs is two. The female remains in the nest while brooding, and is fed by the male during this period. The incubation period of the egg(s) is 28 to 30 days. Studies show that the egg hatch rate (live hatchling) is 90%. The eggs can be preyed on by caracaras, toucans, jackdaws, coatis and possums, and the predation rate varies from 20 to 40%.

The chicks hatch weighing 31.6 grams and measuring 82.7 mm on average. In this phase, the parents go out to look for food so that the chicks can grow and gain weight quickly. Until the age of 45 days, the chicks are subject to predation by ants, toucans and hawks. However, the highest mortality rate occurs up to the fifth day of life of the second chick. When the age difference between the first and second chicks is greater than five days, the second chick rarely survives.

At the age of roughly 107 days (3 months), the chicks start to fly. They no longer return to the nests, but can remain in the vicinity or fly away with their parents. At this stage, they are still fed by their parents, but this is also when the chicks’ learning begins. They learn where and what to eat, where they can sleep, and how to defend themselves from predators. Starting around 9 to 10 months of age, the chicks are already able to feed themselves, but some still accompany their parents up to the age of 12 or 18 months, when they join bands of juveniles and leave the parents free to reproduce again. Only at around 7 to 9 years of age will these young adult birds start their reproductive life, forming couples and raising their families.

To exemplify the low reproductive rate of hyacinth macaws, of the 106 natural nests monitored in 1997, 70% (N=74) were active, 50 couples laid eggs, of which 9 were preyed upon. The rest produced 57 chicks, of which 44 successfully reached flying age.

Threats encountered by the species

The main factors that led hyacinth macaws to endangerment were:

  1. illegal capture for the domestic and international pet bird trade, which was intense up to the 1980s (eggs, chicks, and adults);
  2. destruction of habitat (loss, fragmentation, altered characteristics) mainly with the implantation of cultivated pasture land in the Pantanal, as well as agriculture and settlements in other regions;
  3. the hunting and collecting of feathers for indigenous handcrafts (in Brazil, this has been banned since 2005, being allowed only for ceremonies and other uses within indigenous reservations). Added to these factors are small populations, low reproductive rates, and specialization in diet and habitat.

Trafficking of macaws: By the 1980s, it was estimated that more than 10,000 hyacinth macaws had been removed from nature. Today, the traffic of hyacinth macaws has decreased significantly, but still continues. In Mato Grosso do Sul, if it hasn’t ended outright, it has been greatly reduced, thanks to the publicity and involvement of the population through the Hyacinth Macaw Project.

However, trafficking remains intense in other regions of Brazil. In the period from 2004 to 2006, roughly 60 baby hyacinth macaws were removed from their nests for the wildlife trade. To illustrate the point, out of this total, 10 chicks aged less than three months were apprehended by Federal Police in Corumbá. The destinations were Bolivia, Peru and subsequently other countries. The chicks had already been tagged, because chicks born in captivity receive a closed numbered ring before they are 20 days old, which is controlled by IBAMA along with the breeders. That is why they could receive a “born in captivity” certificate, which would give a legal aspect to the marketing of these birds. But the rings were counterfeit. As soon as the Hyacinth Macaw Project team saw the chicks, it was verified that they were not from the Pantanal, and this information was later confirmed by tests carried out by the Department of Genetics at IB/USP. These chicks had traveled more than 1500 kilometers on Brazilian highways, and apprehension was only possible because people are more attentive as a result of the work of environmental education, dissemination and involvement of the local populace that made the complaint.

Population size

It is impossible to know how many macaws there were originally, but it is known that it was an abundant species at the beginning of the century. Unfortunately, today there are likely more hyacinth macaws in captivity than in the wild. Currently, indications of the occurrence of hyacinth macaws in nature are found in three places: Pantanal, “Gerais” or Central Brazil (in the states of Tocantins, Goiás, Piauí, Maranhão and Bahia), and Northern Brazil.

Results of some field surveys estimate a total a population of approximately 6,500 individuals distributed as follows: 1) Pantanal, with around 5000 macaws, is region where these birds are found in the best situation in the wild. In Mato Grosso do Sul, Guedes (2003) estimates 4000 macaws, the population of which has been increasing and expanding. In Mato Grosso, a study by Pinho (1998) estimates around 800 individuals. In Bolivia, macaws had practically vanished, then reappeared with around 150–200 individuals, according to Dammermann (2000; personal communication and unpublished report). In Paraguay, there are only reports of food in the region near the Brazilian Pantanal.

In Central Brazil, there are around 800–1000 hyacinth macaws, according to a survey by Bianchi et al. (2002). This population is one of the most critical at the moment, as it is affected by trafficking, especially in southern Piauí and Maranhão. Poachers remove eggs, chicks and adults, and there is the ongoing advance of the agricultural frontier, removing native vegetation for soybean farming.

In the North region of Brazil, there are approximately 500 hyacinth macaws, including the states of Amazonas and Pará, and there may be a gap between the populations of the two states. In this region, hyacinth macaws have not been studied in the last 20 years. A more recent survey was carried out by Sherer-Neto (2004; personal communication). Until recently, macaws were affected by the collection of feathers for making indigenous handcrafts, as well as deforestation for ranching and farming. The complete references of these bibliographies are found in Guedes (2004), complete articles in technical publications in pdf.

Committee for the Conservation and Management

created by the Ordinance 375 dated May 5, 2003, the Committee for the Conservation and Management of the Hyacinth Macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus).

The Committee serves as an advisory group to IBAMA, which deals with the management “in situ” (in nature) and “ex-situ” (in captivity) of Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus, integrating researchers and institutions that carry out activities related to this species and its habitats. The Committee is composed of the Wildlife Coordinator-General, the Coordinator of Protection of Wildlife Species, and the Head of the Research Center for Conservation of Wild Birds, all under IBAMA, plus a representative of the Society of Zoos of Brazil (SZB), a representative of the Brazilian Society of Ornithology (SOB), and specialized technicians such as Neiva M. R. Guedes, Pedro Scherer Neto, Yara de Melo Barros, and Cristina Y. Miyaki. The Committee is chaired by the Wildlife Coordinator-General/IBAMA, and field activities related to the species are coordinated by Neiva M. R. Guedes.

The purpose of the committee is to establish strategies for the study, management and conservation of the hyacinth macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus), aimed at achieving the establishment of genetically viable populations of this species. To propose the Action Plan to IBAMA for the conservation of the species, which will support the Institute’s activities in monitoring the implementation of the planned activities. The committee meets at least once every two years.

Distribution map

Source: IUCN

Taxonomy

Class: Birds

Order: Psittaciformes

Family: Psittacidae

Genre: Anodorhynchus

Scientific name: Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus. Described by Latham in 1790. The etymology of the word anodorhynchus refers to the toothless beak and absence of groove on the maxilla, and the name hyacinthinus is from its color, predominantly blue.

Popular name: Known as hyacinth macaws, blue macaws, black macaws, blue-and-yellow macaws, and hyacinthine macaws. In English: Hyacinth Macaw or Hyacithine Macaw. German: Hyacinthara. French: Ara Bleu, Ara Hyacinthe, Ara Jacinthe. Spanish: Guacamayo Azul, Guacamayo jacinto, Paraba Azul. Swedish: Hyacintara, Större Hyacintara.

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