- Spix's Macaw
 - Spix's Macaw

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
Revision Notes

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Sometime in May 1819, the Bavarian naturalist Johann Baptist Ritter von Spix shot a specimen of a blue macaw that, he recorded, “lives in flocks, although very rare, near Juazeiro in the region bordering the São Francisco, [and is] notable for its thin voice.” When he and his companion, Carl Friedrich Philipp von Martius, finally returned to Munich four years after they had left for Brazil, and started to publish on their collections, Spix attributed his specimen to an already known species, the Hyacinth Macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus), which the two had certainly seen earlier in their explorations, farther south along the Rio São Francisco in northern Minas Gerais state (There are no Hyacinth Macaws there today, just as there are no Spix's Macaws near the town of Juazeiro!) It was left to another Bavarian zoologist, Johann Wagler to correct the mistake, realizing that this generally blue-gray macaw, with a relatively long tail and wings, was quite different to the larger, more vividly blue species with yellow highlights on its face. In 1832, Wagler published a monograph of parrots, wherein he described Spix’s specimen as a new species, Sittace Spixii. Thereafter the species fell into relative obscurity, not being seen again in the wild by a naturalist until 1903, and then again not until the 1980s, when increasingly concerned conservationists mounted what proved to be a last-gasp effort to find the species and secure its protection. Despite claims, some perhaps true, that the ararinha azul (the little blue macaw), as it is known in Brazil, could be found in the states of Piauí and Maranhão, at least formerly, all roads eventually led to the town of Curaçá, in northwest Bahia and less than 100 km from Juazeiro, in a region known to Brazilians as “the end of the world.”

In between times; however, the species appeared in trade and was coveted by members of the cagebird fraternity from at least the 1870s. In contrast to knowledge of this macaw among breeders and “parrot fanciers,” it seems certain that the number of individual Cyanopsitta spixii seen in the wild by ornithologists and birdwatchers throughout its 200-year scientific history amounted to fewer than ten! When the species was finally tracked down in 1985, just five were left, and this total soon dwindled to one, a bird that clung on, paired hopelessly to a Blue-winged Macaw (Primolius maracana), prior to its ultimate disappearance at the start of the 21st century. The reasons for the species’ decline became apparent soon enough during the final decade of the last century; Spix's Macaws numbers had been decimated by near-constant demand from the cagebird trade (an irresistible source of income to local people in an impoverished community) and habitat loss, as the species was confined to relatively tall gallery woodland with sufficient numbers of caraiba (Tabebuia caraiba) trees amid the otherwise dry caatinga. Caraiba trees (a species described by Martius) were vital for ‘safe’ nesting cavities and, to a lesser extent, food.

Listed as Extinct in the Wild by BirdLife International since 2018, the entire hope for the species now rests on the comparatively large captive population, which numbered more than 180 individuals in 2020, mainly held in Qatar, Germany, and Brazil, prior to the initiation of the active reintroduction effort. In June 2022, the first releases designed to reintroduce a population of Spix's Macaw to its former home occurred; once emblematic of human’s apparently innate capacity to destroy the natural world, perhaps one day it can become a standard bearer for our capacity to right old wrongs. The bird’s plight has also inspired two computer-animated movies, Rio and Rio 2, featuring a domesticated Spix's Macaw called “Blu!” Sadly, a far cry from the real thing…

Distribution of the Spix's Macaw - Range Map
  • Year-round
  • Migration
  • Breeding
  • Non-Breeding
Distribution of the Spix's Macaw

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