Hyacinth macaws are the world’s longest parrots. They have impressive cobalt blue feathers, which contrast with their bare yellow eye ring (which, in other species of macaw is white) and the yellow patch of skin beside the lower bill. Their irises are dark-brown in color and their feet are dark gray. Females and males are nearly indistinguishable, but the females are typically a little more slender. On juveniles the upper bill is paler and the tail is shorter.
The Hyacinth macaws are native to central and eastern South America and now inhabit only three distinct areas: the Pantanal, natural region of Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay; The Cerrado, tropical savanna ecoregion of Brazil; the eastern Amazon Basin of Brazil. Hyacinth macaws are found in palm swamps, woodlands, and other semi open, wooded habitats. They usually avoid dense, humid forest and often inhabit savannah grasslands, dry thorn forest known as 'caatinga' and palm stands.
Habits and lifestyle
Hyacinth macaws are very social birds. They can be seen alone but usually form groups of up to 4 birds. They are also often found in bigger groups of between 12 and 20 birds, which often include pairs and family trios (parents and chick). They feed mainly during the morning and the late afternoon, and are sometimes active on moonlit nights. During the heat of the day, they rest in the canopy. Pairs stay close to each other. On being disturbed, they fly out of the canopy to circle over treetops, making their loud calls. They are very noisy birds.
flock, company, pandemonium
Diet and nutrition
Hyacinth macaws are monogamous and usually remain with one partner their entire life. They produce one brood per season and don’t breed every year, breeding after the rainy season, which is July to December. They make their nests in cliff faces or tree cavities, depending on what is available. 1 or 2 eggs are laid, the second being several days later than the first. Incubation is done by the female, for about a month, and the male brings her food during this period. Chicks fledge around 4 months after hatching. Often the smaller chick dies, so only one survives. Chicks remain with their parents for around 6 months and both parents feed them. These birds reach sexual maturity at the age of 7 to 10 years.
Hyacinth macaw numbers are in decline due to the illegal pet trade (being highly prized as pets) and habitat loss. Their habitat is being lost or changed due to cattle ranching and mechanized agriculture, as well as hydroelectric schemes. Some native people hunt these birds for their colorful feathers for use in headdresses or other souvenirs for tourists.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total population size of Hyacinth macaws is 6,500 individuals (including 4,300 mature individuals), of which 5,000 individuals are in the Pantanal region. Hyacinth macaws’ numbers are decreasing today and they are classified as vulnerable (VU) on the list of threatened species.
Hyacinth macaws have an important part to play in their ecosystem through dispersal of nuts and seeds throughout their territory.
Fun facts for kids
- Hyacinth macaws are often considered to be gentle giants, with loving and gentle personalities.
- To avoid being eaten by Hyacinth macaws, palm trees produce harder and harder nuts over time. Some macaws with very big beaks can open these nuts. Their young get larger and heavier beaks from their genes, and so beaks become bigger in each new generation.
- The macaw uses its beak to score a mark in the nut. Then, as a cutter does, it slices the nut into two halves, cutting very cleanly, almost like human work.
- Hyacinth macaws can mimic human voices.
- When in flight, the Hyacinth macaw makes a guttural and discordant “kraaa-aaa”, repeating these sounds in bursts. When roosting, it makes barks, yelps, and growls.
- When disturbed, these macaws screech loudly, circling overhead while their long tails stream out behind them.
- The acuri nut, which is a favorite of the hyacinth macaw, is so hard that the bird cannot eat it until it has been digested by cattle.
- Hyacinth macaws sometimes eat clay, which helps them absorb the poison that naturally occurs in some unripe fruits and seeds. These mountains of clay are called "macaw licks".