This following article was
first published in the Mar/Apr 2001 issue of the American Federation of
Aviculture (AFA) Watchbird.
Update on the Status of the
Last Wild Spix's Macaw ©
The last wild Spix's Macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii) was reported
"missing" by the Brazilian wildlife authorities of IBAMA on December
1, 2000. There are many possibilities, including the bird had died, either
through natural cause or predation, or, that it could have moved from its
current range to either its previous range or a new area. The field biologists
believe that there is a real possibility that he might have moved to another
area as he had done so before. (In the last event, he was found relatively
quickly due to sightings from local "cowboys.") At that time, the
field biologist in charge of the program, Marcos Da Re, believed that the male
had changed Illiger's Macaw "partners."
We have no concrete evidence that this occurred (except Da Re's firm belief
that it was a different Illiger's Macaw), as the birds were not tagged. There
are a number of theories of what could have contributed to its disappearance,
such as increased human activities in the area in the months prior to his
disappearance (road clearing and ecotourism), but these will have to be closely
evaluated and compared with field data before any conclusions can be made. At
this time, the only clear fact that we have is that the single Spix's male has
not been observed in the area that he has utilized for the last few years.
Since the disappearance of the last Spix's Macaw, the Field Team,
by Yara de Melo Barros, has conducted an extensive survey of the possible areas,
following up leads from the communities of the area and getting the information
out regarding the Spix's Macaw.
According to the last report from the field by Yara Barros (December 9,
2000), the team involved in the search efforts followed up all the leads and
information from the local population, hut without success. The strategy was to
look in the areas closest to the information points and included numerous
private ranches which are believed to be part of the traditional range of the
last Spix's Macaw.
The researchers felt that there was a real possibility that he might be
returning to his former range. However, confirming this was a daunting task as
it involved finding a single bird in a very large region of the country
(approximately. 5,000 sq. miles or 8,000 sq. km).
The search area size was not the only complicating factor, as on December 11,
the first rains of the season (and therefore breeding season) began, making the
search quite difficult as the dirt roads become almost impassable. The search
group was comprised of three teams, each including a field biologist and local
"vaqueiros" who know the bird well and have been involved in the
monitoring of this species in the wild. Although many parrot species were
sighted, the Spix's Macaw was not found. Species included Aratinga
acuticaudata, Aratinga cactorum, Amazona aestiva and Ara maracana. The teams experienced some problems in crossing creeks because of
flash flooding (which is very common and quite dramatic in this desert habitat).
One group was isolated and had to stay at a farm helping with the round up of
cattle, goats, and sheep to prevent their loss due to the flooding.
As the Spix's Macaw is known to occupy the areas around the streambeds, the
searchers were in some jeopardy due to the flash flooding concerns. Some of the
"vaqueiros" who were on the search teams had to return to their own
farms to help secure livestock and families.
According to Barros, the rain was a major disruption in the searches as it
rained every day until the l7th of December - causing flooding and loss of
livestock. Due to the difficulty in getting the vehicles through the area, many
of the "vaqueiros" chose to ride their horses (although it took a
longer time to get to the area, it was a more reliable method of getting through
the flooded "caatinga"). For the third week of search, the teams
returned to the first search area closer to the town of Juazeiro, where the
macaw had been sighted the last time by local inhabitants (if information was
On December 22, the search operation was halted, although continuing on a
lower scale by the field team. If the male was still alive, he would have been
extremely difficult to find and quite secretive as it is right in the middle of
the breeding season. A decision was made to wait for the reproductive period to
end, while continuing to provide the local communities in the region with
information on this species, the project, and what to do (who to contact) if the
Spix's Macaw is sighted.
Simply because the single bird has disappeared (either died or moved) does
not mean that the Spix's Macaw Field Program will he terminated. The
reintroduction enclosure and the research base are located on a farm that has
been the site of almost 10 years of field research, habitat conservation, and
community programs. The integration of the field effort with community-based
conservation (schoolhouse program, theater restoration, etc has been
ground-breaking in that it addressed the primary problems that faced the Spix's
Unlike other reintroduction programs that have failed because the primary
reasons for the species extinctions were not addressed (habitat loss, poaching,
no community support, etc.), this program has focused its efforts on ensuring a
safe habitat for the eventual re-establishment of this species. The rural
schoolhouse program is continuing and will be expanded to other regions. The
reintroduction program is still on-line for implementation although some
strategies will have to he changed due to the loss of the male.
There is a potential for establishing an in-country breeding facility in the
region that will address the captive management of the Spix's and possibly
Lear's Macaw. The infrastructure of the nearby town of Curaça has improved
considerably in the last 10 years, making this a good location to operate as a
base of operation for future conservation of psittacines of the region. The
Spix's "model" program of community-based conservation is now being
considered for the Lear's Macaw area and it is likely that a joint (more
cost-effective) effort will be implemented, as the regions of occurrence for
both these species are relatively close to one another.
There is still much to be done and the support for this program is now
critically needed. The reintroduction of the Spix's Macaw to the wild now
depends on the captive-breeding program and the avicultural community more than
ever. It is our hope that we wil1 be able to show that in fact it is possible to
re-establish a Psittacine species to the wild.
Copyright © 2001-2005
Natasha Schischakin. No part or contents of this article may be
reproduced by any means without the express consent of the author.
Citation: Schischakin, N. 2001.
"Update on the Status of the Last Wild Spix's Macaw". AFA
Watchbird (Volume XXVIII (2): 62-63.
© Copyright 2005
Natasha Schischakin All Rights Reserved