The Lear's macaw is a large, beautiful blue parrot that has a long tail. Napoleon's nephew, Lucien Bonaparte, first described them in 1858, from an illustration by Edward Lear, the well-known British nonsense poet. However, this macaw stayed elusive in the wild, and was only accepted in 1978 as a distinct species when finally naturalist Helmut Sick located the wild population. Its head, neck and underparts are greenish-blue, while the rest of its body is violet/indigo. It has bare skin around its eyes, and the base of its lower beak is pale yellow.
Lear’s macaws inhabit only a small region in Bahia, northeastern Brazilian state. The two known colonies occur in Serra Branca and Toca Velha, south of the Raso da Catarina plateau. They inhabit 'caatinga', which are arid thorn forests. Breeding takes place in outcrops and sandstone cliffs.
Lear's macaws are social, diurnal, territorial and noisy birds. Lear’s macaws usually form groups of around 8 to 30 birds, and, to a lesser extent there are pairs or smaller groups of families. They have conspicuous loud calls and are usually observed flying or perched on the outermost limbs of trees or palms. Typically up to 4 individuals roost in one crevice or hollow of 30 - 60 m (100 - 200 ft) in high sandstone canyons. In the daytime these birds rest up in shady trees or licuri palms, where they can also feed on the fruits of the palm. They can be observed preening each other, croaking now and again. Lear's macaws are shy birds, and, when alarmed, fly upwards, calling loudly. Then they may circle briefly before they land again on a tree (when they consider it safe), or they will fly off.
Lear’s macaws eat mostly the hard nuts from the licuri palm, and also the fruit and seeds of numerous other bushes and trees, as well as maize, agave flowers, a range of ripe and unripe fruits, vegetable matter and berries. They also forage on any available crops.
Lear’s macaws are monogamous, pairs staying together for life. Breeding takes place between February and April. Pairs will build their nests on the sandstone cliff faces. The female lays 1 - 2 eggs and incubates them for around 26-28 days. The nesting female leaves the nest just for short periods to eat, as her young are dependent on her for feeding and warmth. Once the young have grown protective feathers, the mother will stay away from the nest for longer periods. At night, both parents roost in the nesting area. Chicks that survive to about 3 months, when they fledge, will stay with their parents for period of time after leaving their nest. They reach sexual maturity at around 2 to 4 years of age.
The major threat to Lear’s macaws is the illegal wildlife trade, and they are also vulnerable to the availability of their main source of food, the licuri palm, which has recently been greatly reduced in numbers as a result of livestock-grazing. If a major fire wiped out the whole palm population, this parrot’s survival would be fatally threatened.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total population size of Lear’s macaws is 1,123 birds, including 250-999 mature individuals. Lear’s macaws are classified as endangered (EN) on the list of threatened species.
Lear’s macaws have an important role to play in their ecosystem through dispersal of seeds and nuts within their territory.