SPECIES

Spix's Macaw Cyanopsitta spixii Scientific name definitions

Christopher J. Sharpe, Guy M. Kirwan, Nigel Collar, and Peter F. D. Boesman
Version: 2.1 — Published June 27, 2022

Conservation and Management

CITES I. A restricted-range species: present in the North-east Brazilian Caatinga Endemic Bird Area (41). Although known to science since the first quarter of the 19th century and fully protected by Brazilian law since 1967 (42), the species was only rediscovered in the wild in 1985, when just five birds, including two pairs, were located at Melância Creek, near Curaçá, in northern Bahia (17, 18, 43, 31). Between 1819 and 1985, there were very few observations of the species in the wild (and even fewer can be concerned confirmed; see review in 13), and the species has always been considered rare in aviculture, although there seems to have been an influx of birds into Europe in the 1920s (44, 13); museum specimens are also very few in number, most of them preserved captive birds (13). Roth (17, 18, 31) postulated that the population in the environs of Curaçá might have been 30 or more pairs at the start of the 20th century, and the species may have persisted almost in such numbers as late as the late 1970s; by the mid 1980s, trappers had been active at the site for some 15 years, removing at least 23 birds and possibly as many as 40, and by 1988 appeared to have taken the last five (17, 13). However, confounding expectations, one wild survivor  was located in July 1990 (34, 15), when it was realized that while trapping was the proximate cause of the species’ rarity, the ultimate cause was the almost total loss of caraiba woodland, its nesting habitat, of which only 30 km² appeared to remain (13, 45, 46).

Effects of Human Activity

Climate Change

Climate change may have negative effects on water availability and plant life in the Caatinga biome (47, 48) on which the Spix's Macaw is dependent for food and nesting sites (13, 45, 46, 49). Areas suitable for Spix's Macaw are expected to decrease as a result of future climate change (50), which could impact the species’ viability in the wild (49).

Human Impacts

Undoubtedly, the return to the wild of a population of Spix's Macaw will attract the attention of birdwatchers and avitourism (as termed by Steven et al. 51). Whilst avitourism can have positive effects on local economies and promote the appreciation of local natural history knowledge and education (52), there is also the potential of unintended harm to a rare focal species that may be sensitive to the direct or indirect consequences of human activity (53, 54, 55).

Management

With wild populations likely extirpated, the future of this species depends entirely upon the continued success of captive-breeding efforts currently underway. The Brazilian nature conservation authority, IBAMA, established a Permanent Committee for the Recovery of Spix’s Macaw in 1990, which has involved various interested parties including most holders of captive birds, plus representatives of certain international nature conservation bodies (15); around this time, just ca. 25 individuals existed in captivity, roughly equally divided between those held in Brazil and those elsewhere (56, 24, 57, 28, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 29; see review in 13). Attempts have been made to improve captive-breeding performance by moving birds between facilities (63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69), and there has been a steady growth in the number of captive birds to ca. 130, although most (and probably all) are very closely related to one another. In 1995, after tests on feathers to confirm the sex (male) of the last wild bird (70), a captive wild-caught female was released to join it (71, 72, 73). However, the wild bird had paired with a solitary Blue-winged Macaw (Primolius maracana), and although the released female met up with the male they did not form a bond, possibly because of the Primolius, and in due course the female disappeared (74). The solitary male had also disappeared by 2000, and is suspected to have collided with a powerline (15). Subsequently, there have been occasional local reports, including from Serra da Capivara National Park (16), and a bird filmed near Curaçá in June 2016 (raising considerable expectations, but now deemed to have originated from captivity), which kept hope alive that a small population may have continued to exist in the wild (75). In 2018, a quantitative approach to analyzing the probability of global extinction determined that the species should be considered Extinct in the Wild (76), an assessment made official by BirdLife International in 2019 (14). In Brazil it was considered Extinct in the Wild (77) but is now assessed as Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct in the Wild) (78, 79).

A species action plan was produced in 2012 (80) and the Projeto Ararinha na Natureza has been working to conserve the species since the same year (14); the latter is supported by the Brazilian Ministry of Environment, ICMBio (Instituto Chico Mendes de Conservação da Biodiversidade and Ministério do Meio Ambiente), Parrots International, Association for the Conservation of Threatened Parrots, Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation, and Jurong Bird Park Singapore. As preparatory work necessary for any ultimate release of captive-bred birds into the wild, in 2009 the 2,200 ha Fazenda Concordia was purchased with the assistance of Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation; this was the site of one of the last sightings of the last wild Spix's Macaw and the release site for the female that was released in 1995. Concordia abuts the 400 ha Fazenda Gangorra, which had previously been purchased by a conservation consortium. In 2018, the government officially designated the 30 ha Refúgio de Vida Silvestre Ararinha Azul (Spix’s Macaw Wildlife Refuge) and the 90 ha Área de Proteção Ambiental Ararinha Azul (Spix’s Macaw Environmental Protection Area) in Curaçá and Juazeiro (81), and plans were developed to reintroduce the species at these sites, as well as at Concordia (81, 82). Work to conserve habitat in areas suitable for reintroduction, including by controlling goats, has also been pursued (83), as has work to engage the local communities, raising awareness of the species’ conservation and its habitat (80). Local farmers were educated about the benefits of supplementary feeding of goats to reduce their impact on the caatinga (83). A new Spix’s Macaw Release, Breeding and Research Centre has been built (82). Finally, after decades of such planning and work, eight adult captive-bred macaws were released on 11 June 2022, and another 12 individuals are being prepared for release in December 2022.

Recommended Citation

Sharpe, C. J., G. M. Kirwan, N. Collar, and P. F. D. Boesman (2022). Spix's Macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii), version 2.1. In Birds of the World (G. M. Kirwan, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.spimac1.02.1