Hyacinth Macaw

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North Brazil to east Bolivia and extreme north Paraguay

Can live in a variety of habitats, including deciduous woodlands, palm groves and the palm savannahs of the Pantanal in southern Brazil.

Distinguishing Characteristics
The hyacinth macaw is the largest member of the parrot family. Macaws are a uniform rich and glossy ultramarine blue. They also have a small ring around their eyes and around the base of their lower jaws, which reveals their yellow skin. Their feathers are black on the underside. The beaks are large, black and hooked and are used as a third foot to grasp onto trees.

Dietary Classification
Diet in the Zoo: Nuts and seeds plus fresh fruits and greens

Diet in the Wild: Eight different species of palm nuts, including the acuri palm, which are rich in nutrients and fat, some smaller nuts and seeds. Have been recorded eating some snails.

Life Span
Often to 50 years, both in the wild and in captivity

Their large beaks are uniquely efficient in cracking open nut shells. Beaks are large, black and hooked, and are used as a third foot to grasp onto trees. Can apply up to 800 lbs of pressure with their beaks. They also have short, sturdy legs that are useful for hanging sideways and upside down.

Social birds, often seen in pairs. They usually fly in groups of 2-8 to and from the feeding grounds. After feeding, they return home around sunset and spend their nights there.

Serve an important role in the ecosystem by dispersing seeds and nuts throughout its territory.

Current status: threatened/endangered
Hyacinth macaw numbers are in decline as a result of habitat loss, predation and over-collection for the illegal pet trade. In the 1980s, it is estimated that at least 10,000 birds were taken from the wild. Throughout the macaw’s range, habitat is being lost or altered due to the introduction of cattle ranching and mechanized agriculture and the development of hydroelectric dams.

Zoo Specifics
Native peoples, especially shamans (medicine men), have long used parrot feathers to create elaborate headdresses and costumes used in sacred rituals and ceremonies. However, due to habitat destruction and over collection for the pet trade, many parrots, including the hyacinth macaw, are now endangered or threatened, and it is no longer sustainable to harvest the birds for the feathers.

Nashville Zoo and ACT (Amazon Conservation Team) along with other zoos across the country, have joined in a special project to help the conservation of these species. The project includes collecting feathers as they are molted (fall out). After they are collected, they are sent to ACT, who distributes them to shamans for use in headdresses. This simple act will help save many birds, as well as preserve native cultures.