Spix's Macaw

Spix's Macaw

Little blue macaw, Spix's macaw, Little blue macaw

4 languages
Cyanopsitta spixii
Population size
Life Span
28-38 yrs
288-318 g
56 cm
24-30 cm

Spix's macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii ), also known as the little blue macaw, is a macaw species that was endemic to Brazil. It is a member of tribe Arini in the subfamily Arinae (Neotropical parrots), part of the family Psittacidae (the true parrots). It was first described by German naturalist Georg Marcgrave, when he was working in the State of Pernambuco, Brazil in 1638 and it is named for German naturalist Johann Baptist von Spix, who collected a specimen in 1819 on the bank of the Rio São Francisco in northeast Bahia in Brazil. This bird has been completely extirpated from its natural range, and following a several-year survey, the IUCN officially declared it extinct in the wild in 2019.

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The bird is a medium-size parrot weighing about 300 grams (11 oz), smaller than most of the large macaws. Its appearance is various shades of blue, with a grey-blue head, light blue underparts, and vivid blue upperparts. Males and females are almost identical in appearance, however the females are slightly smaller.

The species inhabited riparian Caraibeira (Tabebuia aurea ) woodland galleries in the drainage basin of the Rio São Francisco within the Caatinga dry forest climate of interior northeastern Brazil. It had a very restricted natural habitat due to its dependence on the tree for nesting, feeding and roosting. It feeds primarily on seeds and nuts of Caraiba and various Euphorbiaceae (spurge) shrubs, the dominant vegetation of the Caatinga. Due to deforestation in its limited range and specialized habitat, the bird was rare in the wild throughout the twentieth century. It has always been very rare in captivity, partly due to the remoteness of its natural range.

It is listed on CITES Appendix I, which makes international trade prohibited except for legitimate conservation, scientific or educational purposes. The IUCN regard the Spix's macaw as extinct in the wild. Its last known stronghold in the wild was in northeastern Bahia, Brazil and sightings were very rare. After a 2000 sighting of a male bird, the next and last sighting was in 2016. The species is now maintained through a captive breeding program at several conservation organizations under the aegis of the Brazilian government. One of these organizations, the Association for the Conservation of Threatened Parrots (ACTP) moved birds back from Germany to Brazil in 2020 as part of their plan to release Spix's macaws back into the wild. The Brazilian Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio) is conducting a project Ararinha-Azul with an associated plan to restore the species to the wild as soon as sufficient breeding birds and restored habitat are available.

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Not a migrant


starts with


Blue Animals


The Spix's macaw - also called the Little blue macaw - no longer lives in the wild and is by a long way the world’s rarest macaw. It is a small, elegant parrot with delicate blue-gray plumage, bright blue wings and tail, and an ash-blue crown. Around the eyes, there is an area of dark grey featherless skin. Male and female adults look similar, the female being slightly smaller. Juvenile Spix’s macaws typically are dark blue, with pale skin around their eyes.



Biogeographical realms

Spix's macaws are native to Brazil in the interior and northeast, where populations occurred in northeast Bahia (Juazeiro) and southern Piaui (Parnaguá). Today they exist only in captivity in different parts of the world, mainly in private collections. Their natural habitat was Tabebuia caraiba gallery woodland beside seasonal creeks, in ‘caatinga’, the dry scrub zone.

Spix's Macaw habitat map

Climate zones

Spix's Macaw habitat map
Spix's Macaw
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Habits and Lifestyle

Spix's macaws tended to travel in small family groups or pairs, hunting for food along the seasonal rivers, and nesting and roosting together in treetops. The Spix’s macaw in the wild was sedentary, and during the day it was active, moving according to food resources and availability of nesting. It would also move in response to rainfall. These birds are shy, and they would fly off when an intruder approached. They are masters of mimicry and can mimic human voices and so they are "talking" birds. Macaws are noisy, lively birds that make their "kra-ark" cry almost every few feet they fly.

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Spix's macaws were herbivores (granivores, frugivores) in the wild, eating seeds, as well as fruit. In captivity, they are usually fed a range of seeds, fruit, and nuts, as well as important mineral and vitamin supplements through the consumption of small quantities of cactus meat and tree bark.

Mating Habits

November-March (in the wild); starts in August (in captivity)
25-28 days
5 months
2-7 eggs

Spix’s macaws are monogamous, mating for life. It is thought that when this species was more abundant, the males competed for females as well as nesting spots. The breeding season in the wild was between November and March. Breeding begins in August for these birds in captivity. 2-3 white eggs are laid, two days apart, though in captivity, often 4 to 7 eggs are laid. Incubation is for about 25 to 28 days, and just by the female. The male regularly feeds her during this period. When the chicks hatch they are almost naked, with just a little down covering them. They are fed by both parents, and they fledge at about two months old. They stay with their parents for a further three months before leaving the nest. Sexual maturity is reached in 7 years.


Population threats

The Spix’s macaw is extinct in the wild, due to habitat loss, persecution and the illegal pet-trade. It lived in a very restricted range, and destruction of the Caraiba woodlands meant almost total loss of the bird’s nesting habitat and was instrumental in its extinction in the wild. They have also been relentlessly trapped for the illegal cage-bird trade.

Population number

Today Spix’s macaws exist only in captivity, and, according to the Wikipedia resource, the number held in captivity has reached 110 birds.


One of the earliest records (and one of very few at all) of a Spix's macaw in a public zoo was a dramatic display of "the four blues" including Spix's, glaucous, hyacinth, and Lear's macaws in 1900 at the Berlin Zoo.

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The bird was exceedingly rare in aviculture, the few being held by wealthy collectors rather than privately as pets. A trickle of Spix's appeared in captivity starting in the late 1800s. The earliest known specimens were three held by the London Zoological Society between 1878 and 1902.

One of the few accounts of the Spix in captivity was given by Rev. F.G. Dutton, president of the Avicultural Society U.K. in 1900: "I have not yet seen a good-tempered Spix ... My Spix, which is really more a Conure than a Macaw, will not look at sop of any sort, except sponge cake given from one's fingers, only drinks plain water, and lives mainly on sunflower seed. It has hemp, millet, and canary, and peanuts, but I do not think it eats much of any of them. It barks the branches of the tree in which it is loose, and may eat the bark. It would very likely be all the better if it would eat bread and milk, as it might then produce some flight feathers, which it never yet has had. But I expect it would not eat any sop, even if I gave it nothing else."

The bird remained rare and highly coveted. The first captive breeding occurred in the 1950s in Brazil, in the aviaries of the late Alvaro Carvalhaes, an aviculturist from Santos. He hatched numerous chicks, some reports say as many as 24, one of which ended up at the Naples Zoo (Italy), where it remained alive until the late 1980s. Most of his birds died of poisoning in the 1970s. Some of these birds were the likely source of rumored Brazilian Spix owners in the 1960s and 1970s.

Bates and Busenbark say that the bird was intelligent and affectionate, talked some, and had no worse proclivity for screaming than Amazons. They also noted that the Spix were spiteful to other birds.

In October 2002, a Spix named Presley was discovered in Colorado, and repatriated to Brazil. This Spix had not been among those known in 1987. Because all known specimens of the Spix's macaw are now in a conservation program run by the Brazilian government, there are now no sources from which the bird may be obtained for the pet trade. Presley died on 25 June 2014 outside São Paulo, at the approximate age of 40.

What appears to be the last Spix discovered in the wild was found on 18 June 2016 in Curaçá, Brazil, however it is speculated that this may have been a bird released from captivity due to fear of the authorities.

The Spix is one of the "four blues", the four species of all blue macaws formerly seen in captivity together including the hyacinth macaw, Lear's macaw, and glaucous macaw (possibly extinct).

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Fun Facts for Kids

  • The Spix’s macaw is named after Johann Baptist von Spix, the German naturalist, who, in 1819, collected a specimen from the banks of Brazil’s Rio São Francisco in northeast Bahia. At this time, the Spix’s macaw was already rare.
  • The movie Rio was inspired by a pair of macaws which, in the year 2000, apparently vanished after escaping from captivity in the year 2000.
  • Spix’s macaw parents protect their chicks aggressively during the breeding season. When threatened, the birds will lie on their side on the ground to draw an intruder away from the nest.
  • A macaw’s beak is strong enough to easily crush a Brazil nut - and also a person’s knuckle.
  • Most macaws have black or gray eyes when young, these changing to yellow or brown as they mature.
  • A macaw’s tongue is slightly scaly, and dry, and inside it is a bone, making it an excellent tool to break open and eat its food.
  • In 1990 a pair was found in the wild consisting of a male Spix’s macaw and a female Blue-winged macaw. Unfortunately, they disappeared in 2000.


1. Spix's Macaw Wikipedia article - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spix%27s_macaw
2. Spix's Macaw on The IUCN Red List site - http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/22685533/0
3. Xeno-canto bird call - https://xeno-canto.org/32005

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