Lear’s Macaw

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I thought it would be nice to visit a bird that we don’t hear much about: Lear’s Macaw.

Of 380 species of parrots worldwide, 19 are classified as macaws, a distinctive group of large, colorful birds. Inhabiting the tropical forests of South America, macaws differ from other parrots with their relatively larger beaks, long tails and a light-colored cheek patch. Macaws are also known for their beaks which are specialized for nut eating, particularly in the case of Lear’s Macaw, the Licuri nut. The upper beak is hooked and the lower beak fits snugly against the upper, creating powerful leverage to crack open nuts and is supplied with sensory nerve endings. Like all parrots macaws have considerable beak dexterity, allowing the birds to move the nuts into the best position for cracking. Although the one-inch Licuri palm nut is so hard it may take a bird a minute or so to crack, the birds may eat as many as 350 nuts and day, the nut comprising 95% of the Lear’s Macaw diet.

The genus Anodorhynchys contains two beautiful blue parrots, the Hyacinth Macaw and Lear’s Macaw. The Hyacinth Macaw is more common than Lear’s, having been known to science since 1790, while Lear’s was only discovered in in the mid-19th century and lost for a number of years until it was rediscovered in 1978 and thus is less well-known. The most distinctive feature of Lear’s Macaw is its intense cobalt-blue plumage covering most of the body. The bare patch of skin around the eyes is a pale yellowish color, surrounded by a feathered ring of blue. The base of the long tapering tail is dark blue lightening to a light blue at the tip. Its heavy black bill is also distinctive. The Hyacinth Macaw is almost identical to Lear’s but is about a third longer and heavier, darker in coloration, and the largest of the flying parrot species.

The limited habitat of Lear’s Macaw is mainly due to their nesting habits. The birds live in a semi-arid region of scrublands and thorny vegetation in Northeast Brazil called the Caatinga, South America’s largest seasonally dry tropical forest.  They utilize small ledges on limestone cliffs to excavate holes for nesting and resting. Their heavy dependence on Licuri palm nuts as a food source contributes to their limited distribution as the palm forest have been reduced as farmers destroy them to plant agricultural crops or for livestock grazing. The birds have also been subject to illegal hunting for the pet parrot trade. Although they are presently endangered and are one of the rarest parrots in the world, their status was previously considered “critically endangered”. Their population has been growing in the twenty-first century, numbering perhaps 1400 birds. Only about a third of the adult birds breed each year, so population growth is slow.

Of all the 380 species of parrots in the world, 116 are listed as vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered by the ICUN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) Red List.

To the left is a painting by Edward Lear of the Red-capped Parrot.

Edward Lear (12 May 1812 – 29 January 1888) was an English artist, illustrator, musician, author and poet, who is known mostly for his literary nonsense, especially his limericks, a form he popularized.

One of Lear’s cartoons

2 thoughts on “Lear’s Macaw”

  1. Loved the article on Lear’s Macaw. We saw them on their native cliffs in Brazil and were dazzled by them.

    You may remember that we have four of Edward Lear’s paintings of parrots framed and on our wall. We stayed in a hotel on Oxford Street that had once been part of Edward Lear’s home.

    Hope you are well. It’s very hot here in San Antonio!

  2. Pingback: Lear’s Macaw – Ornithology - Vetezi

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