The Hyacinth Macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus) is the world’s largest flying parrot species. It is one of three species in its genus, all of which are under tremendous threat from poaching and habitat loss.
In fact, the Hyacinth Macaw is the most common of the ‘Blue Macaws’, although that is not saying much, considering their precarious position. So, are Hyacinth Macaws Extinct or Endangered?
Hyacinth Macaws are neither extinct nor endangered according to the IUCN. However, they remain highly threatened after the wild population of these impressive blue parrots dropped to just 3,000 individuals in the 1990s. Today their numbers have increased, but they remain vulnerable.
Hyacinth Macaws were officially classified as endangered in the early 2000s but reclassified as vulnerable in 2014 after available data suggested they were no longer declining at historical rates. Regardless of their official status, their numbers remain low, and habitat loss continues to worsen the problem.
The Spix Macaw, which is also a blue macaw, is, in fact, extinct in the wild. You can learn all about them in this guide.
However, the capture and trade of wild birds for the exotic pet market is their greatest threat. Estimates from the 1980s put the captive population of Hyacinth Macaws above the number of birds in the wild. The population is now limited to three isolated areas, with two still in decline and one in recovery.
Read this article to learn about the conservation status of the Hyacinth Macaw, an iconic species in real trouble.
Hyacinth Macaws are listed as vulnerable by the IUCN
The Hyacinth Macaw population collapsed primarily because of collection for the pet trade. However, the degradation of their environment and the tree species they rely on for food and nesting are also serious threats.
Hyacinth Macaw numbers continue to decrease in some areas. And with such small, fragmented populations, the future looks uncertain for these incredible parrots. Humans threaten Hyacinth Macaws the most, but these birds also suffer from many natural challenges, including disease and predation.
These large parrots find themselves caught in a natural catch-22 situation. The iconic Toco Toucan (Ramphastos toco) is responsible for over 50% of the Hyacinth Macaw nest predation. Ironically, the toucans also disperse over 80% of the seeds of the tree that Blue Macaws rely on for nesting. However, Toucans are not the only natural threat to Hyacinth Macaws. Coatis, Possums, and Jays are also known to feed on their eggs.
Hyacinth Macaws also have specific nesting requirements. In parts of their range, they nest almost exclusively (95%) in natural cavities in a large deciduous tree known as the Manduvi or Panama tree (Sterculia apetala). These trees are only large enough to provide nesting sites once they are at least sixty years old, and studies indicate that bees and several other bird species compete to use these cavities.
They also have specific diets, foraging on the seeds of a small number of palm species. If their nesting and feeding trees are lost, the macaws go with them, highlighting the indirect threats from habitat destruction and climate change that affect these magnificent birds.
A pair of Hyacinth Macaws in the wild, Pantanal, Brazil
At a species level, Hyacinth Macaws are classified as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). They occur in three populations and are doing better in some areas than others. In the Pantanal, for example, their numbers are increasing. However, they are probably declining elsewhere.
Hyacinth Macaws were officially placed on the endangered list in 2003, although their decline began decades earlier when they became popular in the exotic pet trade. Trappers caught an estimated ten thousand individuals in the 1980s alone.
The exotic pet trade was one of the biggest contributors to the decline of the wild Hyacinth Macaw population
Hyacinth Macaws are threatened by several natural and human-caused factors. These are their most serious threats:
The biggest threat to the species has been direct removal from their natural environment. Local people trapped Hyacinth Macaws for food and their brilliant blue feathers, and traders sold live birds in South American markets for high prices, destined for homes and private collections across the world.
Of course, the indirect threat of habitat destruction weighs heavily on a species with specialized habitat requirements. Habitat loss is accelerating due to frequent fires, modern farming practices, overgrazing, exotic tree plantations, and illegal logging.
It is fair to say that Hyacinth Macaws are naturally vulnerable to these dangers. Apart from their impressive stature and natural beauty (which drives demand), these birds have a low reproductive rate and are difficult to breed in captivity.
They lay two eggs per year, but usually, only a single chick ever survives. That chick will need to live for at least seven years to reach sexual maturity and have a chance to breed.
Hyacinth Macaw walking along the ground
It might seem impossible to help threatened species from other parts of the world, but there is always something we can do.
The export of Hyacinth Macaws from Brazil and Bolivia is banned, but they might be smuggled across borders and traded elsewhere. Never buy a wild-caught macaw, and report any illegal trade in wildlife. These birds can breed in captivity, so there is no reason to encourage environmental crime.
Apart from poaching, the biggest threat to these birds is habitat loss and climate change.
You can help by supporting conservation initiatives that protect their natural environment and programs that provide and manage artificial nest sites.
The current wild Hyacinth Macaw population is unknown. According to Birdlife International, the wild population in 2003 was just 6,500 individuals, of which about 4,300 were mature adults.
An estimated 5,000 were in the Pantanal region of Brazil, the species’ stronghold and the world's largest tropical wetland and flooded grassland area. They also occur in much lower numbers in the Cerrado, a tropical savanna region, and isolated parts of the Eastern Amazon Basin.
Hyacinth Macaws are cavity nesters
Hyacinth Macaws are exceedingly rare in the wild and restricted to isolated populations. However, they are common in zoos, and many private collectors keep these birds.
Hyacinth Macaws are native to Brazil, with a small number in neighboring Bolivia and Paraguay. Most of the World’s Hyacinth Macaws live in the Pantanal, a vast wetland region in southeastern Brazil.
A pair of wild Hyacinth Macaws in flight in their natural habitat
Wild Hyacinth Macaws are protected by law in Bolivia and Brazil. As of 2018, they are also protected under the American Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Hyacinth Macaws are extinct in large parts of their historical range, but they still survive in the wild in three separate populations, and many are kept as pets and display animals across the world.
Brighten up your inbox with our exclusive newsletter, enjoyed by thousands of people from around the world.