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The brilliant and unmistakable Hyacinth Macaw is the largest macaw and largest flying parrot in the world. It is native to semi-open habitats across central and eastern South America. Not only is this bird’s massive size a treasure to behold, but its beautiful rich marine blue feathers are another sight entirely.
The Hyacinth Macaw belongs to the family Psittacidae, which encompasses parrots that are found in tropical and subtropical zones such as Mexico, sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, Central and South America, and Australia. Their genus, Anodorhynchus, includes two extant species, the Hyacinth Macaw and Lear’s Macaw, and one species that is believed to be extinct, the Glaucous Macaw.
How to Identify a Hyacinth Macaw
I hope we are all lucky enough to see a Hyacinth Macaw in nature one of these days. While I’ve never been to South America, it is certainly on my travel wishlist, even if only for birdwatching.
As I mentioned earlier, the Hyacinth Macaw is indeed the largest macaw and largest flying parrot. They can be anywhere from 95 to 100 centimeters long from tail to beak and weigh about 3.5 pounds. Their tails and flight feathers are extremely long and compliment their 117 to 127-centimeter wingspans. Males and females will appear similar in size and color.
Hyacinth Macaws have deep blue feathers that cover most of their bodies, except for the brilliantly yellow exposed skin that is visible around their small black eyes, forming a perfect ring, and around the lower mandible. The contrast of their rich blue feathers against yellow skin is one of the most beautiful combinations I have ever seen in a tropical bird.
The beak of this bird, similar to the rest of it, is gigantic and powerful. The bill is black and is deeply hooked, allowing the bird to use it for climbing and crushing nuts and seeds. Their short legs are optimal for clinging onto surfaces upside down or sideways, for which they will also enlist the help of their strong beaks.
Where Does a Hyacinth Macaw Live: Habitat
It blows my mind that visual masterpieces like the Hyacinth Macaw actually occur in nature, and the thought is one that often inspires me to see the true magic that exists around us all of the time.
In South America, the Hyacinth Macaw occurs in a few different regions. In Brazil, this bird is common in Pantanal, the largest tropical wetland region in the world. While most parrots prefer tropical rain forests, the Hyacinth Macaw aims for lightly forested areas, palm-savannas, deciduous woodlands, and palm groves. The Hyacinth Macaw can also be found in eastern Bolivia and northeastern Paraguay.
Behavior and Habits
Hyacinth Macaws have sociable temperaments both in the wild and in captivity. They are mostly active during the morning until mid-afternoon. Look for them as they fly to their primary feeding grounds in groups of two to eight. They often spend time with their partner, who they mate with for life. After spending the morning to afternoon feeding, they fly back to their roosting trees, where they remain for the night.
Speech and Vocalizations
Commonly described as “squawking,” Hyacinth Macaws emit a loud harsh call that sounds like “kraaa.” The sounds of their massive wings can also be heard while they are in flight.
In captivity, a Hyacinth Macaw will be a boisterous bird that is best kept in a space with a respectable distance from neighbors. These birds are not the best a mimicking human speech and talking, but they are extremely intelligent and will cling to a few favorite words and phrases.
In the wild and in captivity, tool use among Hyacinth Macaws has been observed. This is common for wild and captive parrots. Typical tool use involves using leaves or wood pieces to hold nuts in place while they crack them open. Scientists are unsure whether this is a learned behavior or a naturally ingrained skill. Either way, it’s pretty impressive!
Hyacinth Macaw Diet and Feeding
Palm nuts are the primary food source of Hyacinth Macaws living in the Pantanal. The palm nuts on the menu come from two main species of palm trees, acrocomia iasiopatha, and astryocaryun tucuma. In other areas, palm nuts, coconuts, brazil nuts, macadamias, snails, small seeds, fruits, and tender palm sprouts are all normal choices.
Hyacinth Macaws use their immensely powerful beaks like a third leg to cling and climb, but they also come in handy for opening hard-to-crack nuts. Another helpful tool is their muscular tongue that has a bone in it, useful for perfectly positioning nuts and tapping into fruits.
Hyacinth Macaws have the strongest beaks of any macaw species. This adaptability gives macaws and parrots exclusive access to unripe seeds and nuts that other animals pass over because they are unable to open them.
Due to this bird’s ability to eat unripe seeds, nuts, and fruits, they frequent clay licks or macaw licks. Scientists believe that Hyacinth Macaws and other parrot species congregate and feed on clay cliffsides to aid the digestion process of these foods.
Hyacinth Macaw Courtship and Breeding
During the initial stages of courtship, male Hyacinth Macaws seek out females by putting on an attractive display of behaviors. The males will spread their tails, lower their wings, dip their heads, contract pupils, and offer females food. Pleased females return the sentiment by performing one of the same actions. If the two birds decide to mate, they will peck, nibble, and preen each other. This is done throughout the lifetime of the pair’s relationship and is a common sign of affection.
Hyacinth Macaws form monogamous bonds that last for their entire lives. This partnership is extremely important to the bird’s survival since the pair function as a team in many areas of their lives. In captivity, macaws usually bond to their human caretaker. Since they can live for 40 to 50 years, it is a very emotional and heartbreaking experience when their human caretaker dies. The bird experiences grief and is normally hesitant to create another bond.
Breeding occurs year-round since reproductive rates are low. Out of 100 pairs of Hyacinth Macaws, only 7 to 25 offspring will be produced each year. Their ability to breed for decades over their lifespan balances the low numbers. In the wild, if the pair is unable to mate successfully, they may call the relationship off and find new partners.
Hyacinth Macaw Nesting
Although copulation takes place year-round, the primary nesting season occurs in conjunction with the wet season from November to April south of the equator.
Nests are made in tree cavities and along cliff faces. Throughout the Pantanal region, nests are created in the cavities of manduvi trees. Interestingly enough, the toucan is responsible for the seed dispersal of the manduvi tree, but they are also predators of the Hyacinth Macaw, eating about 53% of their eggs and nestlings.
Nesting sites are limited, and suitable tree cavities usually occur in manduvi trees 60 years or older. If the nesting cavity is not large enough for the female to fit, it is excavated by the pair and filled with woodchips.
Hyacinth Macaw Eggs
Females will lay one to two eggs over the course of two days. Incubation is performed by the female over the next 25 to 28 days while the male focuses on providing her with food.
Although two eggs are laid, usually only one hatchling survives. The parents nurture the nestling for about 13 weeks before fledging, but even though they’ve reached the fledging milestone, they stick near their mama’s side for 18 months. Juveniles don’t reach sexual maturity until they are 6 to 10 years old, so it makes sense they hang around with their parents longer than other birds.
Hyacinth Macaw Population
Unfortunately, Hyacinth Macaws are vulnerable in their numbers due to the rapid development of their primary region in Brazil. The main causes of their declining numbers are the destruction of their swamp habitat and trapping by humans. Other causes include the expansion of cattle ranching and the agriculture industry.
Are Hyacinth Macaws Endangered?
Hyacinth Macaws are listed as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.
The number of Hyacinth Macaws is currently around 6,500 individuals, with 5,000 of those living in the Pantanal region.
Are Hyacinth Macaws Extinct?
While the Hyacinth Macaw is not yet extinct, many of its relatives in the Psittacidae family are. Within the neotropics alone, 46 of 145 species of tropical birds face a serious risk of extinction, the Hyacinth Macaw included.
You don’t know you need to conserve the health of a species until the need arises, but it’s better late than never! This majestic macaw is finally receiving federal protections in Brazil and Bolivia. The commercial export of Hyacinth Macaws and other “wild-sourced specimens” is banned. For nearly ten years, conservation efforts like the World Wildlife Fund-Brazil’s Hyacinth Macaw Project have focused on creating artificial nests and working with land owners to protect the species.
Further research on the current range of the species, population numbers, and the effectiveness of artificial nesting boxes aim to equip conservationists with the tools they need to serve as protectors to the species.
Similar to other endangered birds, ecotourism facilities promote protecting the species and give fascinated tourists a chance to experience the beauty of the Hyacinth Macaw without encroaching on its natural habitat. They also work to educate communities and raise money for their efforts.
Hyacinth Macaw Predators
Hyacinth Macaws are huge in size and have loud alarming calls that ward off most threats, but when it comes to nest robbing, their most notable predator is the common toucan or toco toucan. Other predators include corvids and skunks.
Even some flies found in Central and South America pose a threat to nestlings. Belonging to the genus Philornis, the flies lay larvae under the skin of nestling birds.
Hyacinth Macaw Lifespan
Macaws are known for their long lifespans. In the wild, a Hyacinth Macaw can live anywhere from 40 to 50 years, but because this is such a long time, there isn’t a ton of information available.
Hyacinth Macaws as Pets
I think it goes without saying that you should not consider getting a pet macaw unless you have ample space and experience with other tropical birds. They are definitely not suitable for first-time pet owners or even first-time bird owners.
There are many considerations you need to think over before making this decision. Although large tropical birds are stunning, easily trained, and affectionate, they require ample space, much attention, and vocalize much of the day. Not to mention, they live for a very long time.
A Hyacinth Macaw can be quite loud, especially when they are kept as a pair. Be sure you aren’t going to torment nearby neighbors or attract the attention of bird thieves…yes, it’s real! Just as someone might be interested in stealing a purebred dog, exotic birds can sell for a hefty price.
You aren’t likely to find a macaw for sale at your local pet store, so if you are set on having one, look into rescue groups or ethical breeder organizations.
How Much Does a Hyacinth Macaw Cost?
A Hyacinth Macaw can cost $10,000 or more if they are ready to breed. That’s quite an investment for a high-maintenance pet that lives nearly 60 years or longer in captivity.
In their natural range, Hyacinth Macaws enjoy nuts, green vegetation, and fruit. In captivity, this can be substituted for fruits, vegetables, and macadamia nuts. High carb pellets are specially formulated for species like the Hyacinth Macaw and should be incorporated into your bird’s diet.
Birds of this size need ample exercise and should be kept in very large cages or even have an entire room to stretch out. They will likely destroy most store-bought cages when they attempt to hang upside down or clamp on with their powerful beaks. Many macaw owners recommend investing in a custom-built stainless steel cage; however, very few cages are large enough for this huge bird.
Hyacinth Macaws need one or two hours of exercise a day to maintain strong muscles and alleviate stress.
They also like to chew on toys to keep their beak and jaw in good shape. Macaws will chew through store-bought toys quickly, so incorporating strips of leather into their toybox is a common practice.
When you make the life choice to own a Hyacinth Macaw, it is best to be prepared for a number of health concerns that may arise. Macaws are prone to getting overgrown beaks if they do not have ample toys and branches to chew on.
The best way to avoid disease and illness is to provide your bird with a healthy diet and schedule regular visits with your local avian veterinarian.
Common sicknesses in macaws include proventricular dilation disease, psittacosis, and papilloma.
Hyacinth Macaws that do not get ample attention or stimulation will become neurotic, self-mutilating or feather plucking, and destructive. They bond quickly and are very interested in humans, so if you provide them with ample attention, you will likely have a very well-adjusted and happy bird.
Due to their beak’s powerful nature, it’s important to teach young macaws not to use their beak when playing or interacting with humans. These highly trainable and intelligent birds pick up on the request rather quickly.
When it comes to talking, this bird will cling to a few phrases and repeat them frequently. While they may not be fluent at speaking, they are able to learn the context of a few words, which I find to be extremely impressive!
Answer: Hyacinth Macaws are considered an endangered species, so it is best not to seek them out in their natural habitat and let conservationists focus on returning their population to a healthy number. Visit one at the Cincinnati Zoo to support their conservation efforts.
Answer: There are only about 5,000 to 6,500 hyacinth macaws left in the wild.
Answer: Hyacinth Macaws are not extinct, but they are considered vulnerable to extinction by the IUCN. Their large numbers in the Pantanal region signify that the species may overcome the odds of extinction. Still, only time will tell if conservation efforts can undo years of harmful poaching and biome destruction.
Answer: Hyacinth Macaws are wonderful loving companions, however, they are not ideal pets for first-time bird
owners. They live for a very long time, require tons of space, and need ample attention and stimulation on a daily basis. You should only seek one as a pet if you have high levels of experience taking care of tropical birds of this size.
We are lucky enough to live in a world where Hyacinth Macaws still grace our skies, but it’s important that we treat them and their habitat with the respect they deserve.
Epic and unique, these brilliant blue birds are just as fascinating as they are beautiful. It’s comforting to know that conservationists are making necessary attempts to return the species to a healthy population, and I hope their efforts are extremely successful.
Before seeking one as a pet, consider the quality of life you are able to provide a bird of this size, and perhaps visit one on display at a nearby zoo instead.
Stay curious and kind, bird friends!
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