A new study by BirdLife International said that in recent years several bird species have disappeared. The Spix’s Macaw species is now officially extinct in the wild, however, some of the birds survive in breeding programs. Deforestation is to blame in most of the countries however extreme weather events played a role too.
Estimated 20-30 years in nature and 20-40 years in captivity.
The last known wild individual was known to be at least 20 years old, at the time of its disappearance. There once was a Spix’s Macaws in captivity which hatched in 1976 and is the oldest recorded individual of the species.
Information about the birds’ natural ecology and behavior are limited, as research only started when there were merely 3 known birds left in the wild. However, there are records of them feeding on the following vegetation; Pinhão (Jatropha pohliana var. mollissima), Favela (Cnidoscolus phyllacanthus), Joazeiro (Ziziphus joazeiro), Baraúna(Schinopsis brasiliensis),Imburana (Commiphora leptophloeos), Facheiro (Pilosocereus pihauiensis – indirect record, from seeds on the faeces) ., Phoradendron sp., Caraibeira (Tabebuia caraiba), Angico (Anadenanthera macrocarpa), Umbu (Spondias tuberosa) and Unha-de-gato (Acacia paniculata). From the ingested food items, 90.1 % were seeds (de Melo Barros 2001, per in litt. to Y. de Soye, 2005). However, reports from previous Spix’s Macaw researchers seem to add another two plants to this list, bringing the total to thirteen species: Maytenus rigida (Roth 1990) and Geoffroea spinosa (Pontual 1992b).Da-Ré (1994) adds also Cordia sp. “Freijó” , but this is probably Combretum leprosum, which was erroneously identified (Y. de Melo Barros, pers. Comm.).
The Spix’s Macaw was endemic to the state of Bahia which is located in the north-east of Brazil. There they inhabited a great expanse of semi-arid territory known as the Caatinga. Within the Caatinga there are microhabitats, one of which – the Caraibeira riparian woodland, was home to the Spix’s Macaw. This particular habitat zone is located close to a small town called which is situated along the San Francisco River. One of the tributaries to feed the San Francisco River is the Melancia Creek and it is along this water-way where you can find former Spix’s Macaw habitat. Caraibeira (Tabebuia caraiba) is the dominant tree species found along the banks of the Melancia Creek; it was also the most important tree species for the Spix’s Maca, since it provides nesting hollows, shelter and food for the species.
Historical Perspective & Conservation Status:
The Spix’s Macaw may not be the largest or most colorful macaw species but it is the most critically endangered parrot in the world with no known wild specimens remaining (IUCN, 2004).
The species was feared to be possibly extinct in the wild in the early 1980s, until it was rediscovered in 1985, when just 5 birds, including two pairs, were located in the north of Bahia. Trappers had been active in this area for many years, removing at least 23 birds and likely many more. Sadly, by 1988 it appeared the last 5 birds; including the only three wild birds to be studied by biologists, had been removed.
However, in 1990 an exhaustive survey of the area resulted in the discovery of a single wild survivor. This sole surviving bird was later determined by means of DNA analysis of a feather as being a male. The Brazilian authorities eventually located a wild caught female Spix’s Macaw at a private breeding facility which they had good reason to believe was formerly the breeding companion of the wild male. Thankfully the owner of the bird was willing to cooperate in a bid to return her to the wild. A release aviary was constructed on Concordia Farm in Curaça.
In 1994 the female was introduced to the large aviary where before release she was re-acquainted with natural foods and allowed to gain much-needed flight strength and fitness as it had now been at least six years since she was poached from the wild. After being released in 1995 her fitness quickly improved and her adjustment to life back in the wild was going very well. She was spending less time near the release aviary and her reliance on supplementary feeding was gradually reducing. She had been observed on numerous occasions flying and socializing with the wild male but unfortunately, after two and a half months of repatriation, she disappeared never to be seen again. It was later reported from a local ranch-hand that he had found the carcass of the bird directly below powerlines. The local range-hand said the reason why he did not come forward immediately with the knowledge of how the female died was that he feared the news would spell the end of the Spix’s Macaw recovery program in the region, as he thought that the bird that he supposedly found dead was the wild male. He felt that if the field biologist thought that there was a chance she was still alive but living in an unknown area, this would ensure the continuation of the project. The project did continue but no more birds were released. The one remaining bird was last seen on October 5th, 2000 and is thought to have died of natural causes as by this stage he was in excess of 20 years old. The species is therefore considered to be extinct in the wild but cannot be classified as extinct until all areas of potential habitat have been thoroughly surveyed.
Threats & Conservation Activities:
While trapping is recognized as the main cause of the species decline, the other significant factor was the alteration and destruction of the regions Caraibeira riparian woodland habitat.
In 1990, the Brazilian Nature Conservation Authority established a permanent committee for the recovery of the critically endangered Spix’s Macaw. This committee included three private holders of captive Spix’s Macaws from outside of Brazil, as well as Brazilian officials, zoo representatives, and biologists. The objective of the committee is to coordinate the activities of all the persons/institutions involved in conserving the species.
The committee was dissolved in 2002 due to irreconcilable differences between the parties involved. In 2004 a committee was re-formed and re-structured under the title of “The Working Group for the Recovery of the Spix’s Macaw”. The working group was dissolved in 2011 and replaced by the “Strategic Group for Conservation and Management of Spix’s Macaw”, under the responsibility of CEMAVE/ICMBio (Research Centre for Conservation of Wild Birds) in cooperation with the holders of the birds and support from various consultants.
Gangorra Farm, Curaça, State of Bahia, Brazil (400 hectares): Purchased in 2007 by the Lymington Foundation with a donation from Parrots International and ACTP.
Concordia Farm, Curaça, State of Bahia, Brazil (2380 hectares): Purchased by AWWP in 2008.
Spix’s Macaws in Captivity
Currently, there is approximately 93 individual Spix’s Macaw in captivity. 79 of these are participating in an international breeding program managed by the Institute Chico Mendes of Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio), the natural heritage branch of the Brazilian Government. Most of these are managed at Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation (AWWP), State of Qatar. The population is experiencing very slow growth; primarily due to the low viability (approximately 10%) of eggs laid as a result of extreme close relatedness of all Spix’s Macaws in the world.
n the last 8 years; 33 Spix’s Macaws have been bred at Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation, 5 in Spain and 5 in Germany. All of these chicks have been hand-reared by experienced staff, since it is considered a safer option than parent-rearing and the priority at the moment is to increase the population. When the captive population is considered more secure, breeding pairs will be given the opportunity to raise some of their own young.
Barros, Y. M. (2001): Biologia Comportamental de Propyrrhura maracana (Aves – Psittacidae): Fundamentos para conservação in situ de Cyanopsitta spixii (Aves – Psittacidae) na caatinga. Tese de doutorado. Universidade Estadual Paulista. Rio Claro – SP.
Da-Ré, M. (1994): Projeto Ararinha Azul. Relatório não publicado e proposta para o CPRAA, submetida entre setembro e dezembro 1994; draft.
IUCN 2004: The 2004 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Disponível em http://www.redlist.org. (acessado em19/04/2005).
Juniper, T (2002): Spix’s Macaw – Race to Save the World’s Rarest Bird, HarperCollins, London, UK.
Pontual, F.B. (1992): Some remarks on the Spix’s Macaw final text for the Red Data Book. Relatório não publicado, Julho/1992. [Provavelmente coincide com F. Pontual para N. Collar in litt. 1992.]
Roth, P.G. (1990): Spix-Ara Cyanopsitta spixii: was wissen wir heute über diese seltenen Vögel? Bericht über ein 1985-1988 durchgeführtes Projekt. Papageien 3/90: 86-88, 4/90: 121-125.