Success at last for Spix’s macaws?
A Spix’s macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii) escapes captivity and finds his way back to the forests of Brazil. It’s a story that bears more than a passing resemblance to the plot of the animated film Rio, but could this be the reality of the rare bird caught on camera in Brazil last week?
The beautiful blue bird was seen flying over a small town in Bahia, Brazil by a local farmer. The next day, his daughter went in search of the bird again and managed to spot it – and film it. The family contacted SAVE Brasil, a partner of Birdlife, and one of the organisations making up Projeto Ararinha na Natureza (Spix’s Macaw in the Wild Project) which is working to bring the macaws back from the brink of extinction. The video and distinctive vocal calls confirmed it was a Spix’s macaw. The organisation is now leading an expedition to try and locate the bird.
The Spix’s macaw has been identified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN and believed likely to be extinct in the wild. The last known bird in the wild was discovered in 1990, paired with a female blue-winged macaw. A female Spix’s macaw was released from captivity in 1995 and paired with the male. Sadly she disappeared seven weeks later and her body was found after she collided with a power line. The male disappeared a few years later ; the Spix’s macaw was assumed extinct in the wild.
Spix’s macaws are depenedent on tall, dense gallery woodland. This vegetation is dominant in the Cotinga dry forest but 45% of this has been cleared for agriculture in recent years. Only the biggest trees provide holes large enough for macaws to nest in and, if this wasn’t enough to contend with, they also have to compete for suitable nesting site with introduced African honeybees. Their striking looks also come at a cost. The popularity of Spix’s macaws in the illegal pet trade has led to unsustainable levels of trapping and has pushed the birds even closer to extinction.
Since 2014, Ararinha na Natureza has been working to create 44,000ha of protected Cotinga and riparian forests. The appearance of the Spix’s macaw reinforces the necessity of protecting this area. However, habitat protection alone is not going to be enough to save this charismatic species and future reintroduction is needed for the project to be a success. Today there are around 130 captive individuals, with plans to start reintroducing them in the next few years. Improvements in artificial insemination techniques have meant that 19 chicks have hatched this year.
It is not known where this individual came from, nor has it been seen since. It is suspected to have been released from captivity. A large number of conservationists work in the area meaning, if a Spix’s macaw was around, it would likely have been seen. Patrols and warning signs against trapping may have sparked a panic release.
There are still many questions to be answered. Where did the bird come from? How long has it been there? If it has been released, how is it adapting to life in the wild? We might never know the answers but what we do know is that somewhere, in the forests of Brazil, at least on Spix’s macaw is flying free.
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