Spixs Macaw

Cyanopsitta spixii

Last updated: February 17, 2021
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© Danny Ye/Shutterstock.com

Spixs Macaw Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Aves
Order
Psittaciformes
Family
Psittacidae
Genus
Cyanopsitta
Scientific Name
Cyanopsitta spixii

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Spixs Macaw Conservation Status

Spixs Macaw Locations

Spixs Macaw Facts

Group Behavior
  • Flocks
Fun Fact
Can Mimc Human Voices!
Estimated Population Size
At least 160
Biggest Threat
Habitat Loss
Most Distinctive Feature
Luxurious Blue Plumage
Incubation Period
26 days
Habitat
Desert Woodlands
Predators
Rats, feral cats, mongooses, and monkeys
Diet
Omnivore
Lifestyle
  • Diurnal
Common Name
Spix's Macaw
Location
Brazil
Slogan
One of earth's rarest animals!
Group
Birds

Spixs Macaw Physical Characteristics

Skin Type
Feathers
Lifespan
20 to 40 years
Weight
360g (12.7oz)
Length
56cm (22in)

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Spix’s macaw is one of the rarest and most endangered parrots in the world.

These affable animals are among a select group of talking birds that can mimic human speech. Lively, gregarious, and fiercely loyal to their mates, Spix’s macaw once occupied the desert woodlands of Brazil. However, habitat loss, predation, and poaching drove it to extinction in the wild. They are now bred exclusively in captivity to maintain their numbers.

3 Spix’s Macaw Facts

    • The 2011 animated movie Rio featured a storyline with a pair of Spix’s macaw called Blu and Jewel. The male character was likely based on a real bird named Presley, who lived in Colorado for years and later repatriated to Brazil.
    • The species is named after German naturalist Johann Baptist von Spix, who collected the first specimens in 1819. However, fellow German naturalist Georg Marcgrave was the first European to describe the species in 1638.
    • The species is also known by the more descriptive name little blue macaw.

Spix’s Macaw Scientific Name

Cyanopsitta spixii is the scientific name for Spix’s macaw. The name of the genus Cyanopsitta derives from the Greek words kuanos, which means blue, and psittakos, which means parrot. As the name suggests, Spix’s macaw is a type of true parrot: a long-tailed, vibrantly-colored New World bird. The species is the only known member of its genus. It is closely related to the blue-headed macaw, the red-bellied macaw, the great green macaw, the scarlet macaw, and many others.

Spix’s Macaw Appearance and Behavior

Spix’s macaw can be identified by its striking blue plumage. The exact color of the body varies from the brilliant turquoise blue along its breast and abdomen to the duller bluish gray of the head. It also features gray skin, pale yellow eyes, and a black curved bill. From head to tail, an average member of the species measures around 22 inches; the elegant tail feathers are about as long as the rest of the body. This makes it slightly smaller than the typical macaw species. Males tend to be larger than females, but the sexes are otherwise similar in appearance. The raucous bird has an astonishing vocal range. In their natural habitat, macaws communicate with each other through screeches and squawking sounds. Some of their most common sounds include “kra-ark” that it makes during flight and a “whichaka” sound for mating. Like many parrots, it has the remarkable ability to mimic human speech, which has made it a popular pet in the illegal bird trade. Because there were so few individuals left in the wild by the time scientists began studying them, a lot of information about the bird’s natural behavior still rests on speculation. For example, the birds tend to cluster in pairs or family units, but it is believed that they may have once traveled in flocks of up to 15 individuals in the wild. They can be quite aggressive when they feel threatened, but they are mostly docile and shy around humans or strangers. Along with crows and ravens, parrots are considered to be some of the most intelligent birds on the earth. In studies, parrots have demonstrated the ability to observe, learn, and remember things around them. Their large brain to body size and neurological anatomy seem to be key aspects to their complex cognition, linguistic capabilities, and social behavior. Due to its remarkable intelligence, Spix’s macaw has a fascinating behavioral quirk: it follows a daily routine with a degree of precision that seems almost human. Flight paths, hunting strategies, and bathing all seem to be planned out according to a daily schedule. The birds are most active during the day, and they sleep at night. They may occasionally move from place to place in response to food availability and nesting sites, but they otherwise remain within a limited range of their home.

Spix’s Macaw Habitat

Spix’s macaw once occupied the interior northeastern parts of Brazil, including the states of Bahia and Piaui. They exist mostly within a semi-arid region known as the caatinga, right around the Sao Francisco River. The caatinga is an example of a gallery forest, which means most of the vegetation tends to congregate near the river, while the surrounding area contains only sparse vegetation. It is believed that in the wild Spix’s macaw preferred the Caraibeira trees for nesting, roosting, and foraging. The birds live in hollows and cavities along the crown of the tree. Extending 26 feet into the air, these trees grow along at regular intervals along the banks of the river and its tributaries. They are surrounded by thorn bush vegetation. This habitat is wholly unique to this particular area of Brazil. There are few places like it on earth.

Spix’s Macaw Diet

Spix’s macaw feasts on a selection of nuts, seeds, and fruits, along with small bits of tree bark and cactus meat, from various trees and cacti around its habitat. The beak is specifically adapted to crack open tough nuts. When they still existed in the wild, the birds may have played an integral role in dispersing seeds around the environment. In captivity, the birds are fed with a wide variety of different foods, including palm nuts, seeds, fruits, and even some meats. They are supplemented with vitamins and minerals.

Spix’s Macaw Predators and Threats

Spix’s macaw was susceptible to predation from rats, feral cats, mongooses, and monkeys in the wild. Some of these predators are relatively new threats that have been introduced into Brazil over the past few centuries. When threatened, the birds will make loud noises and flap their wings to scare off predators, or they make take to the air. Both the eggs and young birds are most vulnerable to predation before they have learned how to fly, and so they require the protection of the adults. The number of Spix’s macaw has declined sharply from its peak. Some of the reasons for this include hunting (both by settlers and indigenous people), the destruction of the Caraibeira trees, and the introduction of African bees (which compete for nestling sites in the trees). Habitat loss is perhaps the most important factor for their decline. Farms and ranches have transformed large swaths of territory in which the species resides. The construction of the Sobradinho Dam in the 1970s also submerged part of the bird’s natural habitat. Due to their particular nesting and foraging requirements, Spix’s macaw is vulnerable to this kind of upheaval. Climate change could likewise complicate any efforts to restore the bird to its natural habitat. In addition to habitat loss and predation, the lucrative bird trade further depleted numbers in the wild. When the trade was at its height in the 1980s, a single bird could easily fetch a price of at least $40,000 on the black market. It is currently illegal to trade in the bird except for conservation, educational, or scientific purposes, but wealthy collectors are still known to keep them.

Spix’s Macaw Reproduction, Babies, and Lifespan

It is believed that the Spix’s macaw forms intense lifelong bonds with its mate. The lengthy courtship period includes a series of elaborate rituals such as formation flying and mutual feeding. However, the captive population exhibits different breeding behavior compared to the former wild population. It is suspected that males may have competed with each other for mates and nesting spots in the wild. The bird’s breeding season takes place each year between November and March (or August in captivity). The wild couples produce a fresh clutch of two to three eggs in the hollows of the Caraibeira trees. Because they are creatures of routine, the birds seem to reuse the same nest location every breeding season. The female incubates the egg for 26 days before it hatches. It takes about two months for a young bird to fully fledge, though the birds may continue to feed with the parents for a few more months until the chicks achieve full independence. If the young birds are threatened by a predator, then the parents may attempt to feign injury in order to draw the threat away from the nest. Chicks reach full sexual maturity in about seven years in captivity, which is an especially long time for a parrot. The species has a typical lifespan of at least 20 years in the wild with an average of 28 or 29 years. Captive birds tend to have a longer lifespan. Presley died at the age of 40.

Spix’s Macaw Population

Spix’s macaw was once prolific across the caatinga, but it seemed to enter a period of steep decline after European colonization. Years of deforestation and agricultural development pushed the species to the brink of extinction. The last known wild macaw disappeared in 2000. A wild bird was briefly sighted in 2016, raising hopes that more birds might remain in the wild, but it is believed that the individual may have been released recently from captivity. The Red List of Threatened Species now lists the bird as officially extinct in the wild. The last wild macaw became something of an international celebrity in the 1990s. Unable to find another member of its own species to mate with, the bird paired up with a bright green Illiger’s macaw, which is a closely related species. The couple engaged in typical relationship behavior. They flew together during the day, and the male escorted the female back to her nest almost every night. In order to make him breed, scientists introduced him to a captive female Spix’s macaw, but the experiment ended prematurely when the female died without producing any chicks. The male eventually produced a hybrid offspring with the Illiger’s macaw, but the embryo did not survive for long. Spix’s macaw is currently being kept alive and bred in captivity, where the birds are fed by hand. These efforts are overseen by the Brazilian government. However, the species cannot return to the wild until the habitat is restored. That is why efforts are underway to create protected areas in the state of Bahia for eventual reintroduction into the wild. All of the remaining birds are descended from only a few individuals and therefore have low genetic variability.

Spix’s Macaw FAQ

How many Spix’s macaws are there left?

Due to the number of private collectors, it is difficult to estimate exactly how many birds are left in the world, but there are perhaps 160 known individuals in captivity. Most of these are held by wildlife preservation programs throughout the world. An unknown number are held by private individuals.

How did the Spix’s macaw evolve?

The evolution of Spix’s macaw is poorly understood, but the parrot as a group is an ancient bird that probably evolved in the Paleogene period between 23 and 66 million years ago. This is the time that the true parrots split from cockatoos and then divided into different lineages.

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Spixs Macaw FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Are Spixs Macaws herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores?

Spixs Macaws are Herbivores, meaning they eat plants.

What Kingdom do Spixs Macaws belong to?

Spixs Macaws belong to the Kingdom Animalia.

What phylum do Spixs Macaws belong to?

Spixs Macaws belong to the phylum Chordata.

What class do Spixs Macaws belong to?

Spixs Macaws belong to the class Aves.

What family do Spixs Macaws belong to?

Spixs Macaws belong to the family Psittacidae.

What order do Spixs Macaws belong to?

Spixs Macaws belong to the order Psittaciformes.

What type of covering do Spixs Macaws have?

Spixs Macaws are covered in Feathers.

Where do Spixs Macaws live?

Spixs Macaws live in Brazil.

In what type of habitat do Spixs Macaws live?

Spixs Macaws live in desert woodlands.

What are some predators of Spixs Macaws?

Predators of Spixs Macaws include rats, feral cats, mongooses, and monkeys.

What is the average clutch size of a Spixs Macaw?

Spixs Macaws typically lay 2 to 3 eggs.

What is an interesting fact about Spixs Macaws?

Spixs Macaws are one of earth’s rarest animals!

What is the scientific name for the Spixs Macaw?

The scientific name for the Spixs Macaw is Cyanopsitta spixii.

What is the lifespan of a Spixs Macaw?

Spixs Macaws can live for 20 to 40 years.

What is the biggest threat to the Spixs Macaw?

The biggest threat to the Spixs Macaw is habitat loss.

How many Spixs Macaws are left in the world?

There are at least 160 Spixs Macaws left in the world.

How do Spixs Macaws have babies?

Spixs Macaws lay eggs.

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