IUCN threat status:

Endangered (EN)


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Lear's macaw

Sandstone cliffs in Bahia, Brazil
Nests in sandstone cliffs in Bahia, Brazil
Lear's macaw at Canudos Biological Station in Bahia state, Brazil.

The Lear's macaw (Anodorhynchus leari), also known as the indigo macaw, is a large all-blue Brazilian parrot, a member of a large group of Neotropical parrots known as macaws. It was first described by Charles Lucien Bonaparte in 1856. The Lear's macaw is 70–75 cm (28–30 in) long and weighs around 950 g (2.09 lb). It is metallic blue with a faint, often barely visible, tinge of green, and a yellow patch of skin at the base of the heavy, black bill.

This macaw is rare with a highly restricted range.

Its life span can be anywhere from 30–50 years or more.


Lear's macaw was first described by French ornithologist Charles Lucien Bonaparte in 1856. But it was in 1978 that the rarely seen bird was considered a distinct species when finally ornithologist Helmut Sick located the wild population.[2] It was named after the poet, author, and artist, Edward Lear, who published many drawings and paintings of live parrots in zoos and collections.[2][3] One of his paintings in his book Illustrations of the Family of the Psittacidae, or Parrots strongly resemble this species, although at the time it was believed to be a hyacinth macaw — a species which is larger, darker, and has a differently shaped patch of yellow skin adjacent to the base of the bill.


The Lear's macaw is 70–75 cm (27.5–30 in.) long and weighs around 950 g (2 pounds).

The body, tail, and wings are dark blue and the head is a slightly paler shade. It has an area of pale-yellow skin adjacent to the base of its beak, and orange-yellow eyerings. It has a large blackish beak and dark grey feet.

The Lear's macaw is similar to the larger hyacinth macaw and the slightly smaller glaucous macaw. The hyacinth macaw can be distinguished by its darker plumage, lack of greenish tinge, and a differently shaped patch of yellow skin adjacent to the base of the bill. The glaucous macaw is paler and has a more greyish head.[4]

Lear's macaw, NE Brazil.


When a group of macaws are searching for food or a new nesting ground, a small advance party of males will "scout out" the approaching terrain. In addition, when danger is found on these hunts for new territory the macaws will let out their signature call which can be heard for miles. The macaw can reach flight speeds of up to 35 miles per hour to escape predators or poachers.[3]


The primary diet of the Lear's macaw is the licuri palm nuts (as many as 350 per day), but also Melanoxylon, Atropha pohliana, Dioclea, Spondias tuberosa, Zea mays, Schinopsis brasiliensis, Agave flowers and maize (Neto et al. 2012).


The Lear's macaw's rate of reproduction is 1–2 eggs per year during their mating season from December to May. However, not all pairs of birds mate often or at all. Juveniles reach sexual maturity at around 2–4 years of age.

Distribution and habitat[edit]

For over a century after it had been described, the whereabouts of the wild population was unknown. It was eventually rediscovered in 1978 by ornithologist Helmut Sick in Bahia in the interior northeast of Brazil. Some thought the bird was a hybrid or variant involving the similar hyacinth macaw. However, this idea was soon abandoned, as both plumage, size, and proportions of the Lear's macaw differ from those of its close relatives. It is known from two colonies at Toca Velha and Serra Branca, south of the Raso da Catarina plateau in north-east Bahia, Brazil. In 1995, a roosting site holding 22 birds was located at Sento Sé/Campo Formoso, 200 km to the west (Munn 1995).

The Lear's macaw inhabits stands of licuri palm. This habitat, while never plentiful, is currently estimated to be around 1.6% of its original cover. Cattle that live near its nesting grounds often stand on the roots of young licuri palms causing a large loss of food for these birds. In fact, though the life span of these palms can be 30–150 years most trees do not make it over 8–10 years The Lear's macaw also requires a sandstone cliff in which to nest. In order to nest there they apply their saliva to the sandstone which softens it, then excavate small crevasses using their beaks and scrape the dust out of their soon-to-be nests with their feet.

Conservation status[edit]

In 1983, the global population was estimated to number just 60 birds (Yamashita 1987). Population in 2010 was estimated as between 1100 and 1200 individuals. It is currently listed as an endangered species (CITES I). As well as habitat loss the Lear's macaw has historically suffered from hunting and more recently [when?], trapping for the aviary trade. Various conservation organizations under ICMBio along with local ranchers and other independent organizations are working to help conserve the species. Fundação Biodiversitas created the Canudos Biological Station in 1993 to protect the sandstone cliffs used by the macaws to nest.

All present Lear's macaw conservation projects are managed under the authority of IBAMA. The Committee For The Conservation And Management Of The Lear's macaw advises IBAMA on the conservation of the Lear's macaw. The Committee includes Brazilian and international organizations and individuals.

In 2009 the conservation status of the species was downgraded to endangered from critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).[5] This was prompted by an increase in the population, which based on annual 2009 counts at the Toca Velha and Serra Branca roosting sites is estimated to be approximately 1000 individuals.

Illustration by Edward Lear (1812–88) first published in his book Illustrations of the Family of the Psittacidae, or Parrots in 1832[6]


One of the earliest records (and one of very few at all) of the Lear's in a public zoo was a dramatic display of "the four blues" including the Lear's, glaucous, hyacinth and Spix's macaws in 1900 at the Berlin Zoo.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2013). "Anodorhynchus leari". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  2. ^ a b "Lear's macaw (Anodorhynchus leari)". WildScreen. Arkive. Retrieved 27 December 2012. 
  3. ^ a b "Lear's macaw". SeaWorld/Busch Gardens. Animal Bytes. Retrieved 27 December 2012. 
  4. ^ "Species factsheet: Anodorhynchus leari". BirdLife International (2008). Retrieved 24 July 2008. 
  5. ^ "Anodorhynchus leari". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.1. International Union for Conservation of Nature. 2012. Retrieved 5 July 2012. 
  6. ^ "Illustrations of the family of Psittacidae, or Parrots". Digital Library for the Decorative Arts and Material Culture. Retrieved 2010-04-08. 


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