status: Critically endangered, IUCN Endangered, ESA
Description and biology
Macaws are members of the parrot family. The Lear's macaw is also known as the indigo macaw because the color of its plumage (covering of feathers) is a beautiful indigo or dark purplish-blue. It has grayish-green accents on its head and breast. A yellow patch appears at the base of the bird's black bill. Its legs are dark gray. An average Lear's macaw measures 30 inches (76 centimeters) long.
This bird uses its bill as well as its feet for climbing. It prefers to eat the small nut that grows on the licuri palm tree. Each day before sunrise, the flock of Lear's macaws is awakened by the loud cawing of individual "scout" macaws. The flock then leaves its nesting area for feeding grounds.
Habitat and current distribution
Little is known about the Lear's macaw mating habits. However, it is known to nest only in the Rasa de Catarina region in the northeastern Brazilian state of Bahia. Biologists (people who study living organisms) estimate the bird's current total population to be 246.
The Lear's macaw prefers to inhabit deep canyons and dry, desertlike plateaus. It nests in burrowed tunnels in the sand-stone cliffs of the region. The bird sometimes roosts (rests or sleeps) on cliff faces or ledges.
History and conservation measures
The Lear's macaw is probably one of the rarest parrots in the world. Only captive-bred birds were known until 1979, when biologists discovered a wild population in a remote area of Brazil. In the early 1990s, the population in the wild was only about 65 birds.
Habitat destruction has posed the major threat to the Lear's macaw. Cattle from nearby farms in the bird's habitat feed upon the nut of the licuri palm, limiting the bird's primary food source. The Lear's macaw has also always been hunted by local people for food. An additional threat comes from trappers, who capture the bird for the illegal pet trade. At the end of the 1990s, it was estimated that nearly a quarter of all of the species' nest were raided annually, despite laws protecting the birds.
A number of all-out efforts by several different conservation groups has brought the population up to about 250 birds in 2001 and rising. Current conservation efforts to save the Lear's macaw from extinction include transplanting licuri palms into its habitat and halting illegal smuggling activities.