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Weekend Species Snapshot: Spix’s Macaw

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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spix's macawYou or your kids may have seen the fabulous blue macaw in the movie “Rio” or the just-released “Rio 2.” Unfortunately, more people have seen these movies than will ever see the birds in real life.

Species name: Spix’s or little blue macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii)

Where found: Originally native to northeastern Brazil, the only known members of this species now live in captivity. (“Rio 2″ focuses on the discovery of a “hidden tribe” of Spix’s macaws in Brazil, which conservationists still hope could happen one day.)

BirdLife International conservation status: Critically endangered, possibly extinct in the wild. The last known wild individual was seen in the year 2000, but BirdLife suggests that some potential habitat areas remain to be surveyed.

Total known population: Fewer than 100 birds, “known” being the key word there. Rumors hint that a few private owners still secretly hold a few of the birds, possibly in Switzerland.

Major threat: Today the biggest threat is low genetic diversity and lack of active breeding. Historically, habitat loss and the illegal pet trade drove these parrots toward extinction.

Notable conservation programs: There’s really only one, the Al Wabra Wildlife Preserve (AWWP) in Qatar, which recently pioneered artificial insemination of these rare birds. Seven Spix’s macaw chicks were born at Al Wabra in 2013. You can see a short video about the artificial insemination program below:

An additional small population of Spix’s macaws live at the Loro Parque Foundation in Spain, Sao Paulo Zoo in Brazil, and another can be found at the Association for the Conservation of Threatened Parrots in Germany.

Multimedia: You can see a number of Spix’s macaws at AWWP in the video below (you can hear them, too, although a few shots don’t contain any audio):

Photo: An 1878 painting of the Spix’s macaw by Joseph Smit. Public domain

Previous Sunday Snapshots:

John R. Platt About the Author: Twice a week, John Platt shines a light on endangered species from all over the globe, exploring not just why they are dying out but also what's being done to rescue them from oblivion. Follow on Twitter @johnrplatt.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. Jerzy v. 3.0. 4:34 am 04/14/2014

    To my knowledge, no average person can see a Spix’s Macaw, for none is on public view.

    But if you support Loro Parque Foundation, you can arrange a visit to their off-show breeding centre in Spain which has Spix’s Macaws.

    Link to this

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