The Hyacinth Macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus), or Hyacinthine Macaw, is a parrot native to central and eastern South America. With a length (from the top of its head to the tip of its long pointed tail) of about 100 cm (3.3 ft) it is longer than any other species of parrot. It is the largest macaw and the largest flying parrot species, though the flightless Kakapo of New Zealand can outweigh it at up to 3.5 kg. While generally easily recognized, it can be confused with the far rarer and smaller Lear's Macaw. Habitat loss and trapping wild birds for the pet trade has taken a heavy toll on their population in the wild, and as a result the species is classified as Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List, and it is protected by its listing on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
English physician, ornithologist and artist John Latham first described the Hyacinth Macaw in 1790 based on a taxidermic specimen sent to England. It is one of two extant and one probably extinct species of the South American macaw genus Anodorhynchus.
The largest parrot by length in the world, the Hyacinth Macaw is 100 cm (3.3 ft) long from the tip of its tail to the top of its head and weighs 1.2–1.7 kg (2.6–3.7 lb). Each wing is 388–425 mm (15.3–16.7 in) long. The tail is long and pointed. Its feathers are entirely blue, lighter above and darker on its wings. It has a large black curved beak. It has a lappet of bright-yellow bare skin on the left and right of its face adjacent to the base of its lower beak and an eyering of yellow bare skin encircle each eye. Male and female are identical in external appearance, and juveniles resemble adults except they have shorter tails and the yellow on their faces is paler.
Food and feeding
The majority of the hyacinth macaw diet is nuts from native palms, such as acuri and bocaiuva palms. They have a very strong beak for eating the kernels of hard nuts and seeds. Their strong beaks are even able to crack coconuts, the large brazil nut pods and macadamia nuts. The acuri nut is so hard that the parrots cannot feed on it until it has passed through the digestive system of cattle. In addition, they eat fruits and other vegetable matter.
In the Pantanal, Hyacinth Macaws feed almost exclusively on the nuts of Acrocomia aculeata and Attalea phalerata palm trees. This behaviour was recorded by the English naturalist Henry Walter Bates in his 1863 book The Naturalist on the River Amazons, where he wrote that
It flies in pairs, and feeds on the hard nuts of several palms, but especially of the Mucuja (Acrocomia lasiospatha). These nuts, which are so hard as to be difficult to break with a heavy hammer, are crushed to a pulp by the powerful beak of this macaw.—Bates
Nesting takes place between July and December, nests are constructed in tree cavities or cliff faces depending on the habitat. In the Pantanal region, 90% of nests are constructed in the manduvi tree (Sterculia apetala). Hollows of sufficient size are only found in trees of around 60 years of age or older, and competition is fierce. Existing holes are enlarged and then partially filled with wood chips. The clutch size is one or two eggs, although usually only one fledgling survives as the second egg hatches several days after the first, and the smaller fledgling cannot compete with the first born for food. The incubation period lasts about a month, and the male will tend to his mate whilst she incubates the eggs. The chicks leave the nest, or fledge, at around 110 days of age, and remain dependent on their parents until six months of age. They are mature and begin breeding at seven years of age. Eggs are regularly predated by corvids, possums, coatis and (most prolifically) toucans. Adults have no known natural predators. The young are parasitized by larvae of flies of the genus Philornis.
Distribution and habitat
The Hyacinth Macaw survives today in three main populations in South America: In the Pantanal region of Brazil, and adjacent eastern Bolivia and northeastern Paraguay, in the Cerrado region of the eastern interior of Brazil (Maranhão, Piauí, Bahia, Tocantins, Goiás, Mato Grosso and Minas Gerais), and in the relatively open areas associated with the Tocantins River, Xingu River, Tapajós River, and the Marajó island in the eastern Amazon Basin of Brazil. It is possible that smaller, fragmented populations occur in other areas. It prefers palm swamps, woodlands, and other semi-open wooded habitats. It usually avoids dense humid forest, and in regions dominated by such habitats, it is generally restricted to the edge or relatively open sections (e.g. along major rivers). In different areas of their range these parrots are found in savannah grasslands, in dry thorn forest known as 'caatinga', and in palm stands, particularly the Moriche Palm (Mauritia flexuosa).
The Hyacinth Macaw is an endangered species due to the cage bird trade and habitat loss. In the 1980s, it is estimated that at least 10,000 birds were taken from the wild. Throughout the macaw’s range, habitat is being lost or altered due to the introduction of cattle ranching and mechanised agriculture, and the development of hydroelectric schemes. Annual grass fires set by farmers can destroy nest trees, and regions previously inhabited by this macaw are now unsuitable also due to agriculture and plantations. Locally, it has been hunted for food, and the Kayapo Indians of Gorotire in south-central Brazil use its feathers to make headdresses and other baubles. While overall greatly reduced in numbers, it remains locally common in the Brazilian Pantanal, where many ranch-owners now protect the macaws on their land.
The Hyacinth Macaw is protected by law in Brazil and Bolivia, and commercial export is banned by its listing on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). There are a number of long-term studies and conservation initiatives in place; the Hyacinth Macaw Project in the Brazilian State of Mato Grosso do Sul, has carried out important research by ringing individual birds and has created a number of artificial nests to compensate for the small percentage of sites available in the region.
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