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The Spix’s Macaw
(Cyanopsitta spixii)
The story of the little blue macaw

The Spix’s Macaw is an extinct species in the wild, but several captive birds are reared, protected and conserved through important breeding programs in several countries in the world.  
This Macaw was collected by the German naturalist Johann Baptist von Spix in the dry north-east of Brazil, around the 1819s.

The Spix’s Macaw or Little Blue Macaw is a beautiful blue parrot, relatively small compared to the Hyacinth Macaw which size is about 100 cm in length.
The Spix’s Macaw is 56 cm long, for a wingspan of 64 cm and a weight of about 295 to 400 grams. Its lifespan is estimated about 28 years in wild, and about 10 more in captivity. 
The blue plumage turns darker on the wings and the graduated tail. The underparts are paler, rather blue-grey. The undertail feathers are pale grey, and the underwing shows pale grey flight feathers.
The pale blue-grey head contrasts with the darker body. The forehead, cheeks and ear-coverts are slightly washed blue. The hooked bill is blackish grey. The adults have pale straw-coloured eyes, with grey eye-ring and bare dark grey lores. Legs and feet are grey-brown. 

Male and female are similar, with female slightly smaller than male.
The juvenile resembles adults, with slightly darker plumage and rather whitish-grey to grey bare facial area. It has shorter tail than adults. Its eyes are dark first, but they become gradually lighter.

Spix’s Macaw lives in woodland galleries within “caatinga” (scrubby, thorny, dry and flat lands along seasonal waters), with several varieties of trees, cacti, Euphorbiaceae and other plants, particularly the tree “Tabebuia caraiba” used for nesting. Its natural habitat is very restricted along some temporary streams. 
This Macaw was formerly in Río Sao Francisco valley, in north-eastern Brazil. This region is still maintained for the reintroduction of the species, even if it is more restricted today.
Several years ago, when the Spix’s Macaw was a wild bird living in these wooded galleries, the screeching notes uttered by the parrots resounded in these areas. Other sounds such as sharp, rolling typical “kraa-aark” were heard between the trees, brought by the wind above the vegetation.
In the wild, the Spix’s Macaw is sedentary. It may perform some movements, according to the food resources and the availability of nesting habitat. It also moves in response to rainfalls.
It uses the Tabebuia tree for nesting and roosting. This tree is about eight metres tall, with yellow flowers at the end of the dry season. For this dependence to this tree species, the Spix’s Macaw has very restricted natural range.
These parrots are seen in pairs or in small groups. They are shy birds, taking off if an intruder approaches. They perform flapping-flight, and have distinctive silhouette with the long tail.
At this moment, the Spix's Macaw is extinct in wild since 2000, when the last macaw died. But there are very active breeding programs for protecting this species, with the hope to reintroduce this parrot into its natural habitat next day.

The last Spix’s Macaw was a male. This bird has been observed with a female Blue-winged Macaw (Primolius maracana), and these two birds seemed to form a pair. In order to try a future reproduction, one female Spix’s Macaw was introduced within the territory of the male, but the relationship between the male and the female Blue-winged Macaw was strong, and any pair-bonds occurred between the two Spix’s Macaws. Later, the female died by electrocution, and the male died too in 2000.  

The captive population managed for recovery of the species includes 78 macaws (January 2008). For example, the Loro Parque Fundación of Tenerife (Canary Islands - Spain) has one breeding pair on loan from the Brazilian Government which produced four young in the last three years. Adults are under high protection, including those in two Brazilian institutions and also in Germany. There are thought to be other birds which also breed, in private properties with a particularly wonderful collection of about 50 birds in Qatar, at the Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation.
Exchanges of birds between the different organizations occur sometimes, in order to favour the reproduction. Before to bring together two birds and form a pair, the last arrived is put in quarantine during six weeks.
It is necessary to get new blood, for adding new genes to produce healthy birds for reintroduction in their native range and to avoid consanguinity problems. The age of each bird is important and both mates have to be relatively close in age. In addition, a good harmony within the pair is important too. Each exchange needs long reflexion, because the goals are great. 
 
In nature, the breeding season occurs from November to March, according to the rainy season. The Spix’s Macaw nests in holes in trees, and particularly in Tabebuia trees. They often reuse the same nest year after year.
The female lays 2-3 white eggs, at two-day intervals. In captivity, the clutch is often more important, with about 4 to 7 eggs. The incubation lasts approximately 25 to 28 days, and it is by female alone. She is regularly fed by the male during this period.
The chicks hatch almost naked, with little down on the body. The young are fed by both adults, and fledge about two months after hatching. They remain with parents for three months more, before to leave the nest.

The Spix’s Macaw feeds mainly on vegetation. Its main food includes seeds and fruits, and particularly those of Euphorbiaceae plants’ species. It also consumes flowers and leaves from several plants found within its habitat, and may move for searching new food sources. Its strong bill allows the bird to crack open hard nuts to get the tender heart. 

The Spix’s Macaw is extinct in wild, due to habitat loss, illegal pet-trade and persecution.
 This species lived in very restricted range, and the almost total loss of its nesting habitat with the destruction of the Caraiba woodlands, played an important role in its extinction.
These beautiful birds have been heavily trapped for illegal cage-bird trade.
Introduction of Africanized honey Bees (Apis mellifera scutellata) involved competition for cavity nests, and the bees killed incubating Macaws at nest.

Currently, 400 ha are dedicated to the reintroduction of this rare species. A very large aviary is situated within this area, in order to prepare the bird to its future reintroduction. This wide aviary includes some of its favourite trees, food and space enough for flying. The macaw needs to learn how to open a hard nut after to be fed by humans during long time.
Within the region, the local population is educated and conditioned for protecting the macaws against the poachers. Young people learn all about the Spix’s Macaw at school.

At this moment, the suitable range for this species is about 30 km2, with only three river basins.  Before the extinction, this species lived in four original basins, depending on the Sao Francisco River. The hope is in the breeding programs.
The Spix’s Macaw always was a rare bird. Few numbers lived in wild before their extinction. Because the Little Blue Macaw is an integral part of Brazil, this species has to be reintroduced within its natural habitat, and to survive with the protection of the population and all the respect due to its rarity.

Text and illustration by Nicole Bouglouan

Sources:

HANDBOOK OF THE BIRDS OF THE WORLD volume 4 by Josep del Hoyo, Andrew Elliot and Jordi Sargatal – LYNX EDICION – ISBN 8487334229

PARROTS OF THE WORLD – An Identification Guide – by Joseph M. Forshaw – Princeton University Press – ISBN 0691092516

Wikipedia (Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia)

BirdLife International

Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation 

 

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