Cyanopsitta spixiilittle blue macaw(Also: Spix's macaw)

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Geographic Range

Spix's macaws were found in interior northwestern Brazil in small areas in southern Piaui, extreme southern Maranhao, northeastern Goias, and northwestern Bahia. However, they are now extinct in the wild and with the exception of a single male, exist only in captivity in: Walsrode Birdpark (Germany) - 4 birds, Loro Parque, Tenerife (Spain)- 2 birds, Naples Zoo (Italy) - 1 bird, Sao Paolo Zoo (Brazil) - 3 birds, Private keeper (Philippines) - 4 birds, Private keeper (northern Switzerland) - 18 birds, Private keeper (Qatar) - 4 birds, Private keepers (Brazil) - 20 birds, and other sites in the United States, Japan, Portugal, and Yugoslavia. (Collar, et al., 1992; Juniper and Yamashita, 1991; Loro Parque Fundacion, 1996; Ridgely, 1980)

Habitat

At one time it was theorized that Spix's macaws prefer areas with groves of buriti palms (Mauritia flexuosa) because their diet includes nuts produced by these palms. However, before their numbers dwindled, the birds were observed in the Juazeiro/Curaco area which is an arid region of northeast Brazil called the Tabebuia caraiba woodlands, where very few palms can be found. The abundant plants in this area are known as caatinga vegetation and consist of thornbushes like the giant succulents (Euphorbiaceae), cactus such as the fachiero (Cereus squamosus), and diverse opuntia types, as well as tall craibeira trees that grow along the water courses. (Collar, et al., 1992; Juniper and Yamashita, 1991; Roth and Pittman, 1990)

The birds seem to favor the dead crowns of craibeira trees as perches which suggests that these are important nest sites for Spix's macaws. (Collar, et al., 1992; Juniper and Yamashita, 1991)

The habitat of the Tabebuia caraiba woodland is distinctive as a result of the presence of three seasonal watercourses that provide necessary habitat for the growth of the craibeira trees, and thus, the existence of Spix's macaws. The trees grow at regular intervals of approximately 10 meters along the banks, with caatinga vegetation surrounding them. The pattern of the trees and vegetation, as well as the variability of the watercourses, creates a completely unique habitat that cannot be found anywhere else on earth. This, no doubt, contributes to the naturally small population of Spix's macaws. (Collar, et al., 1992; Juniper and Yamashita, 1991; Roth and Pittman, 1990)

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • rivers and streams
  • Average elevation
    15 m
    49.21 ft

Physical Description

The plumage of adult Spix's macaws is dull blue with a faint greenish tinge on the breast and abdomen. The upperside of the back and tail are a deeper blue, the bare lores and cheeks are dark grey, the ear-coverts and forehead are pale grey-bluish. The underside of the tail and wing-coverts are dark grey. Their bill is blackish, smaller, and less curved than that of close relatives. Their irises are pale yellowish, and the feet are grey. Sexes are alike. They weigh 360 g and are 55 cm long, on average. Their wingspans are 1.2 m and their basal metabolic rates are 1.245 cm^3 oxygen/hour.

Fledglings and immatures have a shorter tail than adults and the upper mandible is horn-colored with blackish sides; the irises are brown. (Roth and Pittman, 1990; Yakan, 2000)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Average mass
    360 g
    12.69 oz
  • Average length
    55 cm
    21.65 in
  • Average wingspan
    1.2 m
    3.94 ft
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    1.245 cm3.O2/g/hr

Reproduction

Spix's macaws are monogomous and mate for life. It is suspected that when the macaws were more abundant, males competed for mates as well as for nesting spots. However, the birds are so rare that it is nearly impossible to observe natural behavior, particularly since it is thought that only one bird (a male) is left in the wild. (Loro Parque Fundacion, 1996; Yakan, 2000)

The wild male is paired with a female Illiger's macaw (Primolius maracana)- a bird of a different species. The pair can be observed in the evening at a traditional overnight roosting site used outside of the breeding season. At sunset, the male Spix's macaw accompanies the female to her roosting site, and then flies to his own resting place. The Spix's macaw and Illiger's macaw pair mate every year. However, their eggs are hollow and infertile (although the female incubates them normally) and the pair has been unable to produce young. (Loro Parque Fundacion, 1996)

In the wild, Spix's macaws breed between November and March. A clutch is usually two to three eggs and is laid in the hollows of the dead crowns of craibeira trees. The same nests are generally reused each year - this makes them especially susceptible to poaching because the poachers can take note of the location of the nest and return each breeding season. Because they have extremely small crops, baby Spix's macaws require more frequent feeding than other young macaws. During this time, it is essential that the adult Spix's macaws are undisturbed, as they may injure or destroy their eggs. (Central Pets Educational Foundation, 2003; Loro Parque Fundacion, 1996; Roth and Pittman, 1990; Yakan, 2000)

Breeding in captivity has been achieved several times. In captivity, breeding begins in August and there is no courtship display. Rather, breeding is signalled by mutual feeding, longer periods of treading (often 5 to 10 minutes) and increasing aggressiveness towards the keeper. The clutch is 2 to 4 eggs (the same as in the wild) laid in two day intervals; not all the eggs are fertile. Incubation lasts 26 days, the chicks fledge in 2 months and are independent in 5 months. Juveniles reach sexual maturity in 7 years. (Yakan, 2000)

  • Breeding interval
    It is suspected that Spix's macaws breed once a year.
  • Breeding season
    Spix's macaws breed from November to March
  • Range eggs per season
    2 to 3
  • Average eggs per season
    2
  • Average time to hatching
    26 days
  • Average fledging age
    2 months
  • Average time to independence
    5 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    7 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    7 years

There are usually two or three young per nest. They hatch with much smaller crops than other macaws of a similar size, so adults must feed their young much more often. Spix's macaws have a fledging period of 2 months, but once they have left the next, the young are still fed by parents for up to 3 months. In addition to food, the parents provide protection and are very aggressive during breeding season. If threatened, the birds have been known to lay on the ground on their sides to draw attention away from the nest. (Collar, et al., 1992; Roth and Pittman, 1990; Yakan, 2000)

Most of what is known about learned behavior and parenting in Spix's macaws is speculation, due to their rarity in the wild. In captivity, for example, the female macaw has been observed taking an active role in the flight-learning process. However, with only one male and no offspring produced in the wild, scientists must speculate that parents teach their young which seeds and nuts are good to eat as well as how to open them. In captivity, parents are very involved with the growth, learning, and development of their young which leads to specuation that macaws live and travel in a tight-knit family unit. (Roth and Pittman, 1990; Yakan, 2000)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement
  • altricial
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • protecting
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • post-independence association with parents

Lifespan/Longevity

The 28-year lifespan of Cyanopsitta spixii is considerably shorter than other, larger macaws, but similar to its closest relative, Illiger's macaws which have a lifespan of approximately 30 years. However, so many Spix's macaw eggs, fledglings, and adults have been taken illegally from the wild, that it is difficult to know their average lifespan. In addition, the birds travel in pairs or family units and take active roles in feeding their young and finding food for each other. Because of this, it is difficult to know how their small numbers in the wild have affected their lifestyle and longevity. (Central Pets Educational Foundation, 2003; Yakan, 2000)

  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    29 years
  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    20 to 33 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    28 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    28 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    28 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    27 years
    AnAge

Behavior

Spix's macaws are very routine-oriented birds, following the same flight paths, scavenging activities, and bathing at the same time each day. Even in their interactions with each other and other birds, routines are followed. For example, the single male in the wild can been observed each night at sunset escorting his mate, the female Illiger's macaw back to her nest, before returning to his own. As mentioned above, Spix's macaws prefer to travel in pairs or small family groups along the seasonal rivers hunting for food, and roosting and nesting together in treetops. Spix's macaws were always extremely shy and were often identified by their raucous "kra-ark" call during flight. (Central Pets Educational Foundation, 2003; Loro Parque Fundacion, 1996; Roth and Pittman, 1990; Yakan, 2000)

It is very hard to estimate the territory size of Spix's macaws in the wild, as there is only one bird. Although they are aggressive animals, scientists can only speculate about territorial behavior - as it is, the single male macaw has free reign over his territory. Therefore, we can only assume that his boundaries are restricted only by his need for proximity to his nest and mate, and the restrictions placed by the habitat - the Tabebuia craibeira trees only exist in a 20 km wide area. They are known to be sedentary and show diurnal activity patterns. (Collar, et al., 1992; Juniper and Yamashita, 1991)

Home Range

We do not have information on home range for this species at this time.

Communication and Perception

Like many other species of macaw, Spix's macaws are masters of mimcry. They can mimic human noises - a so-called "talking" bird. Macaws are lively, noisy birds that rarely fly more than a few feet without letting out the "kra-ark" cry. Though they have rarely been observed in groups larger than two or three, it is suspected that at one time they traveled in flocks of up to fifteen birds, making this kind of constant oral communication an absolute necessity. (Collar, et al., 1992; Juniper and Yamashita, 1991)

  • Other Communication Modes
  • mimicry

Food Habits

Spix's macaws are frugivores and granivores, eating the seeds of favela/faveleira trees (Cnidoscolus phyllacanthus) and pinhao-brabo trees (Jatropha pohliana), as well as the fruits of fachiero cacti (Cereus squamosus), zizyphus joazeiro cacti and pau-de-colher cacti (Maytenus rigida). The have also been observed eating the fruits of the very local licuri palm (Syagrus coronata). (Central Pets Educational Foundation, 2003; Collar, et al., 1992)

In captivity, Spix's macaws are usually fed a variety of fruit, seeds, and nuts, in addition to important vitamin and mineral supplements that may be acquired by consumption of small amounds of tree bark and cactus meat not available in captivity. In order to hand rear macaws, making them more affectionate and trusting, they may be fed on porridge, egg, and small amounts of pre-cooked beef. (Central Pets Educational Foundation, 2003; Juniper and Yamashita, 1991)

  • Plant Foods
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit

Predation

When threatened, especially in the presence of eggs or fledglings, Spix's macaws are known to lay on their side on the ground to draw attention to themselves. In addition, when acting aggressivly towards a competitor or predator, they employ their loud voice and large, flapping wings to scare the predator away. (Collar, et al., 1992)

Ecosystem Roles

Cynopsitta Spixii has such a small population that is is nearly impossible to notice any impact on the community ecology. The macaws are shy birds that keep mainly to themselves, though may be aggressive if threatened. They consume the fruit of cactus trees and the seeds of faveleira and pinhao trees and could be effective seed dispersers. However, with such extremely small numbers, there is no noticable contribution. (Central Pets Educational Foundation, 2003; Collar, et al., 1992)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Poachers and trappers trap Spix's macaws in the wild at little or no cost and sell them for up to $200,000. It is estimated that illegal trafficking in rare and endangered species generates $l0 billion to $20 billion a year - third only to drugs and black-market weapons.

Spix's macaws were hunted for food, especially in the Curaca region. (Collar, et al., 1992; Wittell, 2002)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse affects of Spix's macaws on humans.

Conservation Status

Spix's macaws are by far the rarest and one of the most protected birds in the world. They have no known subspecies, and have been reduced to only one wild individual. There are many causes for this near-extinction but Paul Roth has identified three main reasons for the rapid decline. 1) Hunting by the indigenous people of Brazil. 2) African bees introduced to the area occupy breeding spaces and often drive nesting Spix's macaws out or kill young macaws. They have been blamed, in part, for the low breeding yields. 3) Trapping activites are the most direct and harmful cause of Spix's macaw's declines. Because of the beauty of the birds, as well as their rarity, poachers and trappers have captured adults, fledglings, and removed eggs from nests for decades. They have been sold to local zoos or smuggled out of the country to foreign zoos and wealthy private owners. The price to purchase a pair of macaws in 1987 was already $40,000, and is probably double or triple the price today.

Collar et. al. (1992) recognize a fourth reason for the decline of Spix's macaws - habitat encroachment. The area in which the single male macaw resides is certainly large enough for his survival, but the destruction of the caatinga woodland that has been occuring in the push for more fertile farmland has doubtless had a great effect on Spix's macaw populations. Collar et. al. (1992) draw the connection between the clearing of woodlands containing the craibeira tree in Pernambuco, and the subsequent disappearance of the macaw in previous decades.

Spix's macaws are listed as 'Critically endangered' by the IUCN and are on CITES Appendix I. (Collar, et al., 1992; IUCN, 2003; Roth and Pittman, 1990)

While captive breeding appears to be the one thing that can save the Cyanopsitta Spixii from extinction, private ownership of the birds (which constitutes more than 75% of the population) is the greatest impediment to the breeding process. As Giles Wittell says in his article for The Times, "There is still hope for the Spix's macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii), but only if Homo sapiens can stop squabbling over him. So far, however, the pattern has been the reverse. The rarer the bird has become, the more intense and acrimonious the human drama over its fate has become. It is a drama involving the good, the egotistical and the unimaginably rich, in which the true hero, the bird himself, often gets pushed to the wings."

To be fair, there are countless organizations and private contributors dedicated to saving the bird. Millions of dollars are put to use each year to keep the macaw in existence, and for now, the efforts have been successful, but only in captivity. (Wittell, 2002)

Other Comments

In captivity, it is recommended for macaws to have an expansive aviary with an adjoining shelter of about 3 x 2 x 2 m. The aviary should be in a quiet location as the bird is distracted and easily disturbed, especially during breeding season. The inside area should have plenty of perches and a tree stump approximately 35 cm in diameter and 70 cm high with an entrance hole that is 10 cm wide. (Yakan, 2000)

Contributors

Alaine Camfield (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Molly Spooner (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Neotropical

living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

food

A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

frugivore

an animal that mainly eats fruit

granivore

an animal that mainly eats seeds

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

mimicry

imitates a communication signal or appearance of another kind of organism

monogamous

Having one mate at a time.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

social

associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

visual

uses sight to communicate

References

Arndt, T., A. Sojer, H. Strunden, R. Wirth. 1986. A few strokes before midnight for the Spix's Macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii). Gefiederte Welt, 12. Accessed April 19, 2004 at http://www.bluemacaws.org/spixart6.htm.

Central Pets Educational Foundation, 2003. "Macaw - Spix's" (On-line). Central Pets.com. Accessed April 19, 2004 at http://centralpets.com/pages/critterpages/birds/parrots/PRT848.shtml.

Collar, N., L. Gonzaga, N. Krabbe, L. Naranjo, A. Madroño Nieto. 1992. Threatened Birds of the Americas. Washington, London: Smithsonian Institution Press.

IUCN, 2003. "The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species" (On-line). Accessed April 19, 2004 at http://www.redlist.org/.

Juniper, A., C. Yamashita. 1991. The habitat and status of Spix's Macaw Cyanopsitta spixii. Bird Conservation International, 1: 1-9. Accessed April 19, 2004 at http://www.bluemacaws.org/spixart7.htm.

Loro Parque Fundacion, 1996. Cyanopsitta. PERMANENT COMMITTEE FOR THE RECOVERY OF THE SPIX’S MACAW: 40-35. Accessed April 19, 2004 at http://darwin.bio.uci.edu/~sustain/bio65/lec15/spix.html.

Ridgely, R. 1980. The Current Distribution and Status of Mainland Neotropical Parrots. ICBP Parrot Working Group Meeting: 241-242. Accessed April 19, 2004 at http://www.bluemacaws.org/spxart17.htm.

Roth, P., T. Pittman. 1990. Spix's Macaw - Cyanopsitta spixii. What do we know today about this rare bird?. Cage & Aviary Birds, 3 and 4. Accessed April 19, 2004 at http://www.bluemacaws.org/spixart1.htm.

Wittell, G. 2002. Battle of the bird breeders. The Times, 11 January. Accessed April 19, 2004 at http://www.bluemacaws.org/spxart22.htm.

Yakan, S. 2000. "All About Macaws" (On-line). The Avian Web - All About Birds.