Animal Conservation

Lost parrots return to Brazil

The Spix’s Macaw has returned to live freely in its native Brazil after disappearing in the wild thanks to a remarkable and pioneering international conservation effort.

The parrot’s predicament was highlighted in the 2011 animated film Rio, which told the story of a caged Spix’s Macaw named Blue. The film was not only a box office success, but also provided the impetus to bring the parrot back into the wild.

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Named after German naturalist Johann Baptist Ritter von Spix who first collected a specimen in 1819, the fate of the South American parrot began when its homeland in northeast Brazil was destroyed by overgrazing and clearing.

Its fate was then sealed by the unfortunate fact that its distinctive blue plumage proved irresistible to bird collectors around the world, so that at the turn of the millennium, the Spix’s Macaw was declared extinct at the ‘wild state.

About 20 Spix’s macaws were held in private collections around the world and these caged birds helped launch an ambitious captive breeding program.

Today, eight Spix’s macaws were finally successfully released into the wild in Brazil.

“So far, all released birds are alive, staying together in flocks, flying and feeding in the release area,” said Tom White of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the project’s technical advisor. “The program is going as well as it could at this point.”

One of the most challenging aspects of the project was that captive breeding had reduced the birds’ instinctive survival abilities.

On June 11, 2022, Spix’s first eight macaws were released into Brazil’s Caatinga. © Association for the Conservation of Threatened Parrots (ACTP)

To remedy this, the program used a pioneering approach by releasing eight wild Illiger’s macaws as well as Spix’s macaws to serve as trainers.

“This provided the environmentally naive Spix’s macaws with well-suited ‘mentors’ who could show them where to find native food and alert them to potential predators,” White says.

It is one of the first times a ‘mixed species herd’ strategy has been used and its success means it could be applied to other reintroductions facing similar challenges.

All released birds are of breeding age and it is hoped that they will start breeding next year.

Main Image: Spix’s Macaw (Cyanopsitte spixiilisten)) is a species of parrot that has been extinct in the wild for over 20 years. © Association for the Conservation of Threatened Parrots (ACTP)