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What Is a Spix’s Macaw?

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  • Written By: Angie Bates
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 22 November 2016
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Not only one of the rarest birds in the world but also the rarest parrot, the Spix's macaw is a tropical bird native to an isolated area in Brazil. This macaw is assumed extinct in the wild and is only found in zoos and with private owners. The scientific name of the Spix's macaw is Cyanopsitta spixii.

Also called a little blue macaw, the Spix's macaw is considered small, measuring 21–23.6 inches (55–60 cm), not including its 10.2–14.2 inch (26–36 cm) tail. These birds have vibrant blue wings and backs, lighter blue bellies, and pale blue-gray heads. The underparts of the wings and tail are dark gray or black. Their black beaks are matched by featherless portions around the eyes which are also black.

The Spix's macaw is native to a small portion of northern Brazil called Bahia. Although humans had been aware of this bird's existence for over a century, researchers did not spend time studying the Spix's macaw until the mid 1980s, at which point there were only three known birds left in the wild. The study of the natural behaviors was quite limited by the small sample size.

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From what little is known, the wild Spix's macaw lived in gallery woodlands and nested primarily in the hollows of trumpet trees, Tabebuia caraiba, which are found in these woodlands. They eat mostly flowering plants in the spurge, or Euphorbiaceae, family. These birds are thought to live 20 to 30 years in the wild. In 2001, the last known Spix's macaw died, leaving researchers to assume the species was then extinct in the wild.

Since the late twentieth century, most of the living Spix's macaws have been captive-bred. As of 2010, official estimates put the total population of captive birds at 71, though some authorities suspect an additional few dozen unreported pets also exist. Captive birds may live up to 40 years. They also tend to lay more eggs than the wild macaws, usually around five versus two or three.

Efforts have been made to preserve this macaw and possibly introduce populations back into the wild. Zoos working in cooperation with private owners have attempted to establish breeding programs in order to stabilize the declining population of these birds. The Permanent Committee for the Recovery of the Spix's Macaw was the leading organization attempting to save this species from extinction until 2001 when the organization dissolved. In 2004, the Working Group for the Recovery of the Spix's Macaw was established to continue the work the Permanent Committee began.

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