Brazil is considered to be the country with the largest variety of psittacidae in the world, housing one fifth of all species of parrots, parakeets, macaws and jendayas, among others. The hyacinth macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus) stands out in this scenario, being the largest of them all.
But the species is in danger of extinction. Habitat destruction and capture for the pet trade are two factors that, combined, have led to this risk of extinction. Today, only 5,000 of these birds are still found in the wild, living in the Pantanal Wetlands region of Brazil.
The characteristic green colour found in the Pantanal region serves to outline the hyacinth macaw, easily spotted flying in small groups or in pairs. By the end of the afternoon, they gather in places called "dormitories", which work as "centres for the exchange of information." By watching these moments, it becomes clear that the species has a high degree of socialisation: couples, for instance, extremely faithful, divide the tasks and responsibilities of taking care of the young birds.
The hyacinth macaw can also be frequently found in dry tree branches in the Pantanal, palm trees or even on the floor, in open fields, feeding.
In the Pantanal region, 90 percent of the hyacinth macaw nests are located in one single type of tree, the manduvi. With a soft centre, the tree is the most commonly used by the species to build its nests. The macaws enlarge existing holes previously built by woodpeckers, or those that are created when branches break up or caused by fungi or termites. When the work is done, the result is a deep and cosy hole, lined with sawdust that macaws take from the tree.
But since it is difficult to find natural holes and there is a large dispute for this privileged space with other species, the Hyacinth Macaw Project has developed and installed several artificial nests in the region. The first nests were placed in 1997, in a few farms. Today, there are more than 170 of such nests.
|Acuri seeds |
The hyacinth macaw has a very rich diet. The species feeds on nuts taken from two different types of palm trees: the acuri and the bocaiúva.
With the acuri nut, the macaw initially takes those that have fallen from the trees and have already been ruminated by cattle or wild animals. The bocaiuva nut, on the other hand, is taken and eaten directly from the bunches on the trees.
Hyacinth macaws are very fragile when they are born, only adventuring themselves in their first flights three months after birth. And even then, when they do not return to the nest where they were born, they still remain in the surrounding areas and are fed by their parents until they are six months old.
Only when they are seven years old do hyacinth macaws start building their new families. In average, the female will have two birds at each time, remaining inside the nest for the most part, taking care of the incubation of eggs, which are approximately the same size as a chicken egg. The male will be responsible for providing food for the female. After about 28 days, the young birds are born.
|Young hyacinth macaws only weeks after birth|
The newborns grow very quickly - both in terms of weight and size. But their survival is at great risk until they are 45 days old, since they cannot defend themselves from cockroaches, ants or other birds that may go into the nest, like toucans or hawks. It is very common for siblings to compete for food and the one that has been born first - usually bigger - tends to win this dispute. Thus, in most cases, only one bird survives.
During the incubation time, Nature also interferes in the process. During this period, 40 percent of all eggs are attacked by toucans or jays, among other birds, and even some mammal species, like the coati.
According to estimates from the TRAFFIC Network - an international organisation and WWF partner which monitors the global wild animal and plant trade - approximately 800,000 psitacidae are illegally sold each year worldwide. WWF believes that the illegal animal and plant trade reaches US$ 10 billion a year.
In Brazil, thanks to the work coordinated by biologist Neiva Guedes, who has been in charge of a project for conservation of the hyacinth macaw in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul for 10 years, the species has begun to reappear in large groups in some parts of the state, like the region of Miranda. With a fiercer environmental legislation and a good environmental education effort, the illegal trade of macaws is no longer the largest threat for the species. Today, the species is still at risk, but due to other environmental crimes such as deforestation and uncontrolled forest fires that reach their natural habitat.
|Biologist Neiva Guedes working on the field |
Alongside the hyacinth macaw, there is another "blue macaw" worth mentioning in Brazil: the Lear´s macaw (Anodorhynchus lear), from the state of Bahia, in Northeastern Brazil, also in critical condition. The species has been decimated over the last years by wild animal traffic, which profits from the sale of eggs, young and adult birds for collectors.
Hyacinth macaws fly quite a lot every day, being able to travel over 25 km a day. To better observe and count the macaws, the Hyacinth Macaw Project has used radio-transmitters shaped as collars, which are put around the neck of the birds, that allow for a better study of the macaws´ movements.
|Project member monitors artificial nest|
It is impossible to know for sure how many hyacinth macaws existed originally in the region. However, there´s no doubt that the large number of macaws that existed in the 19th century no longer exists. There were two main factors that caused the death of thousands of hyacinth macaws, making the species endangered: the capture of birds to attend the demand of illegal trade in Brazil and abroad, and the occupation of the natural habitat for agriculture and cattle ranching.
This critic situation only began changing in 1990, when the first studies about the species started taking place in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul. Since then, the Hyacnth Macaw Project has monitored more than 5,000 birds, placing rings in nearly 850 young birds from its office in the Caiman Farm (Mato Grosso do Sul). Moreover, more than 485 artificial and natural nests are regularly monitored by the project staff in 42 farms - inside an area of 400,000 hectares. This represents a clear chance for conserving the species.
|Aerial view of the Caiman Farm |