Hyacinth Macaw - the largest and one of the rarest of the macaws which are various large,
 long-tailed parrots of the genera Ara, Anodorhynchus
, Cyanopsitta, Orthopsittaca, Propyrrhura and Diopsittaca.

The Hyacinth Macaw

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The Hyacinth Macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus) is one of 16 living species of macaws and the largest parrot in the world. There are six genera of macaws and the Hyacinth is one of three species of the genus Anodorhynchus. One of the other two species of this genus is thought to be extinct (A. glaucus, the Glaucus Macaw) and the other (A. leari, called either the Lear's or Indigo Macaw) is severely threatened.

A typical length for the Hyacinth Macaw is 100 centimeters, or about 40 inches. A typical weight of captive-bred adults is 1,250 grams (about 2 ¾ pounds). The plumage of these magnificent parrots is predominately a deep cobalt blue (see photos). In natural light, the head appears to be a lighter shade of blue and has an almost iridescent quality. Flight and tail feathers are dark gray on their undersurface. The huge, grey to black bill is deeply curved and sharply pointed. The bill's lack of the tooth-like ridges characteristic of other genera of macaws gave rise to the scientific name for the Anodorhynchus macaws (an=no, odo=tooth, rhynchus=nose). There are two bare areas of the face, a prominent and deeply golden colored eye ring and the peri-mandibular area making a beautiful contrast with the rich blue plumage.

Both observations in the wild and of captive-bred individuals confirm that immatures have similar plumage to adults and that they are very slow to reach independence.

The Hyacinth Macaw's historical range included a large area of northeastern, central and southwestern Brazil, eastern Bolivia and northeastern Paraguay. Today, it is know from the interior of northeastern Brazil, central and southwestern Brazil, easternmost Bolivia and, some claim, extreme northeastern Paraguay. The outline of the range has not contracted much, but the number of individuals is much reduced. Recent estimates of the number surviving in the wild have ranged from 2,500 to 5,000. Persecution has taken the form of illegal pet trade and hunting for food and feather (see photos of Indian crafts). The high value of these birds in captivity ($7,000-$10,000 in the United States) has driven illegal trade in Brazil long after they received legal "protection."

One of the common misconceptions about the Hyacinth Macaw is that it is primarily a rainforest bird. Over and over this has been repeated in books, magazine articles and on Internet web sites. One of the first things one learns when studying birds in their wild state is that most species are habitat specific. This is no less true for the parrot family.

The Hyacinth Macaw avoids heavily forested areas throughout most of its range. Only in a small part of its range, in southeastern Para, has it been recorded from a rainforest. Most of its range is lightly forested with the seasonally flooded grassland of Brazil's and Bolivia's Pantanal holding a major part of its population. The other living member of its genus, the Lear's Macaw occurs only in the arid caatinga (characterized by thorny scrub-brush and cacti) of northeastern Brazil, hundreds of miles from the nearest rainforest.

Other macaws that seem to prefer dry or savanna habitats include the Red-fronted, Spix's, Yellow-collared, Military, Blue-winged (Illiger's) and, in its Central American range, the Scarlet. Humid forest macaws include the Blue & Yellow, Red & Green (Green-winged), Red-bellied, Great-green (Buffon's), Red-shouldered (Nobil and Hahn's) and, in its South American range, the Scarlet.

In the Pantanal portion of its range, its diet seems to be largely the nuts of certain palms (Suagrus commosa & Attalea funifera). Click to see palm nts eaten by Hyacinth Macaws. I have also seen them eat the thick green covering of the palm nutshells and strips of palm fronds. Locals told me that they also eat some of the fruit from the few large trees that occur there. I have seen Blue & Yellow, Red & Green, Red-shouldered and Yellow-collared Macaws eating such fruit in the Pantanal, but have not observed Hyacinths doing so. There is a report of this species taking snails in the Pantanal. I have seen them eating palm nuts from the ground many times in areas where empty snail shells littered the same area, but have never witnessed their eating snails. I wonder if the report might have been based upon finding empty snail shells where Hyacinths had been feeding on the ground and an incorrect assumption made. Snail kites are common in the Pantanal and they leave empty snail shells scattered over the pastures.

The palm nuts that they eat from fields come via the digestive tract of cattle. The nuts are taken green by cattle. The thick green covering of the shells is digested, and the "cleaned" nuts are deposited in the pastures by the cattle. I have seen cattle feces with many dried palm nuts incorporated into the material and there are few, if any, other ways for the nuts to get to the pastures. Click to see Hyacinth Macaw foraging for Palm nuts in a cattle lot. Click here to see palm nuts with cattle feces barely adherent. The palms occur in stands on the slightly higher ground that prevents there being regularly flooded. The pastures surround these "palm islands."
Hyacinth Macaws tend to nest in cavities of large trees in the Pantanal portion of their range. However, in other areas, they are said to have adopted the practice of nesting in holes in cliff faces. Whether this is in reaction to persecution or a natural habit has not been determined with certainty. It is interesting to note that Glaucus Macaws were and the Lear's Macaws are cliff nesters. It may well be that both cliff nesting and tree cavity nesting are natural with local conditions of site availability and persecution dictating which is used by individual pairs.

What has been done, is being done and what else can be done to save the Hyacinth Macaw from extinction? Several research projects have been done by ornithologists, both professional and amateur, in the last few years. Population surveys have been done, nesting and feeding habits studied (two such studies by this foundation) and artificial nest boxes placed. Ecotourism has helped make them "real" to the public and encouraged locals to protect a profitable resource.

Among things that need to be done are the following:

  1. Enforcement of laws that are designed to protect them from prosecution.
  2. Education of indigenous peoples and missionaries that work with them that killing them to make decorative pieces to sell to tourists is not appropriate. Click to see Indian head dress from Macaw Feathers
  3. Further basic information gathering regarding their habits, diet, nesting, etc.
  4. Further work to provide artificial nest sites where suitable natural nest sites are a limiting factor on reproduction.
  5. Redoubled efforts in captive breeding.
  6. Encouraging breeders to sell their production as breeders, not as pets. Educate them to at least get a promise from buyers that the bird will eventually be put into a breeding program.
  7. Insure that captive breeding is done with attention to stud books to ensure genetic diversity.
  8. Education of the public.

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