Several species of parrot are critically endangered, but the one in most trouble may already be extinct in the wild. According to the World Parrot Trust, the rarest parrot in the world is the Spix’s macaw, a species endemic to the forests of Brazil that was not recorded until the beginning of the 19th century.
The Spix’s macaw is relatively small, reaching a length of only about 20 inches, excluding tail, and with a wingspan of about two feet. The other striking characteristic is their plumage, a deep shade of blue paling to gray-blue on the underside and around the heads, which is offset by black eyes and beaks. These account for the other common name -- the small blue macaw. Males and females look almost identical.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature classes the species as “critically endangered” on its Red List of Endangered Species. The Spix’s macaw is probably extinct in the wild, with the last confirmed sighting in 2000. If there are any left, numbers would be miniscule -- fewer than 50, according to the IUCN.
Spix’s macaws have very specific habitat and diet requirements. According to Birdlife International, they require one particular species of tree, Tabebuia caraiba, to nest in and feed mostly on just two species of plant from the genus Euphorbiacea. As a result, the range is limited to one small area of Brazil. This makes the Spix’s macaw very vulnerable to habitat destruction.
The two main threats that have pushed the Spix’s macaw to the edge of extinction are the aforementioned habitat loss and capture for the pet trade. Birdlife International suggests the introduction of aggressive bees and the construction of a large, hydroelectric dam in the area may have been contributing factors.
With the bird almost certainly gone from the wild, conservation efforts are focusing on captive breeding programs, with the aim of eventually reintroducing the species. About 70 individuals are part of these programs, and an estimated 50 more Spix’s parrots are held by private individuals around the world. Protection of the remaining habitat is crucial if these captive birds are to have anywhere to go.
What You Can Do
A market for Spix’s macaws still exists among unscrupulous bird owners and, because of their rarity, it could be a very lucrative one. You might still come across people trying to sell this species, in person or online. If such a parrot actually is a Spix’s macaw, he could have gone to the captive breeding programs instead of becoming the lonely star of somebody’s collection.
You can help by reporting any such sales to the appropriate authorities, normally the police. Conservation, animal welfare and bird organizations can provide advice and assistance if the police seem unwilling to take action.
People with legally-owned Spix’s macaws might be able to transfer their birds to one of the captive breeding programs, expanding the gene pool.
Judith Willson has been writing since 2009, specializing in environmental and scientific topics. She has written content for school websites and worked for a Glasgow newspaper. Willson has a Master of Arts in English from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland.