Theodor Roosevelt with a Hyacinth Macaw

Theodor Roosevelt with a Hyacinth Macaw

From the Greek: An, (without), odous, (tooth), and rhynchus, (beak), meaning, beak without a tooth, because, different from other macaws of the genera, the surface of the upper mandible lacks notches. Hyacinthinus refers to the plumage color of hyacinth blue, which really seems incorrect to me as the birds’ plumage actually appears to me to be that of Cobalt blue.

What a spectacular bird! Who can deny the attraction to such a bird when first seen by anyone in close proximity on exhibit or with the privilege to actually have personal physical contact with one of these amazing birds.

Prior to 1863 not much was known of this, the most sought after Avicultural rarity. It occurs in the interior of Brazil from 16 degrees south latitude to the southern border  of the Amazon valley and south to northern Paraguay and west to most eastern Bolivia where it feeds on a variety of flowers,palm and tree seeds. Favorite foods in the wild consist mainly of palm seeds of various species. One of more favorite being the Buriti palm, Mauritia flexuosa, that grow in or near swamps.

Patrick with 6 Hyacinth Macaws

Patrick with 6 hyacinth macaws, 2005

Licuri palms from the genus coccus are also favored. Other trees and seeds include Pinhao, Jatropha pohliana, and the seeds and flowers from Tabebuia caraiba. But the favorite has to be Bertholletia excelsa….the Brazil nut, nearly impossible to obtain here in Costa Rica. At Ave Azul we supplement with coconut served everyday at 4:00 p.m. Of course the birds relish it. Hyacinth macaws are extremely gentle and more docile than their enormous bills would suggest. In fact, estimates of more than 300 lbs. per square inch have been documented. We, humans, have about 140 lbs. per our bite. That bill is mostly used however, to crush the very hard nuts of the palm… Acrocomia lasiopatha which would require a heavy hammer to open.

Before 1970 the birds were near unknown in u.s. Aviculture. The first known breeding of the species occurred in Pozan zoo in dates available. In Chicago’s Brookfield zoo a bird was paired with a Scarlet Macaw and deposited a single egg on April 30 1967, it however, was broken. A year later a male Hyacinth was obtained. April 15th the hen deposited  a single egg, then a second and a third on April 22nd. Two were fertile and one disappeared, not uncommon for first time parents.


The 6 hyacinth macaws, 2005

In 1971 Ralph Small, a keeper at the zoo was successful in hand rearing one chick.

In 1970, three Hyacinths were reared at Bratislava Czechoslovakia. One also in that same year in Kobe Japan.

In 1975 and 1977 2 chicks were reared at the Houston zoo, United States by curator of birds Robert J. Berry, a man I was fortunate enough to have worked for in the early 1980’s there at the zoo. The parents were obtained in 1966. In the spring of 1975 the birds were given access to a nest box and produced a single egg which turned out to be infertile. They were temporarily moved and their original nest box provided. They nested shortly thereafter and produced two chicks that the pair reared to fledging without incident. Then their location was moved to the Tropical Bird House, (TBH), temperature and humidity controlled where I worked for some two years. There they nested in a 35 gallon oil drum on exhibit with papered windows for privacy from the public.

The success Mr. Berry has had with the reproduction of those birds inspired me to write him and ask for a position there at the zoo. Subsequently, I took a meeting with him in Las Vegas Nevada U.S.A. which resulted in an interview in Houston at the zoo. I was eventually hired in the TBH for two years. Mr. Berry was responsible for many first breedings of difficult species to keep and rear in captivity, most notably the Scarlet Cock-of-the-Rock, Rupicola peruviana sanguinolenta and the Golden-headed Quetzal, Pharomachrus auriceps.

Patrick 2013 with Puffer

Patrick 2013 with Puffer

Back to the birds…

Hyacinth macaws eventually became more readily available to Aviculturists in the early 1980’s and many pairs were formed. Since then the species seems destined to survive,if not in the wild,then at least in captivity and,until suitable habitat becomes available for re introduction.

Since 1983 to present day here in Costa Rica I have reared some 49 birds. This latest breeding season, (2013) here at Ave Azul de la Osa we produced 5 birds of which 3 survived. The next step is to get the juveniles sexed via DNA. They tend to run long in males and as a result, one in five often turn out to be hens. The goal after sexing will be to locate unrelated suitable individuals and create new pairs for future breeding.

Studies from the past 15 years by Dr.Paul Roth, et al. indicate there are anywhere from 3 to 5,000 specimens in the wild habitat,but probably closer to 3,000 and another 2,500 in captivity,so, the species appears stable…for now. Of course more work needs to be done if we really want to see the species fully recover. Breeders round the world are consorting with one another to broaden gene pools and exchange specimens.

Baby Blue, Hyacinth Macaw at around 3 months of age, 2009

Baby Blue, Hyacinth Macaw at around 3 months of age, 2009

I feel anytime one can count the number of any individual species left on the planet, that species needs help, ya think? So, there is time however, but we need to convince those who would occupy the lands where the birds survive that this is worth doing. Since the birds were added to the CITES list in 1987 and afforded critical status as seriously endangered, no birds have come out of the Amazon or anywhere in Brazil and Paraguay legally. Ironically, many of the bird catchers (poachers), of the past have in fact, become guides and protectorates of the species and now guide bird watchers wishing to add the species to their “life list”. Indeed, Roy Toft from Roy Toft Photo Safaris leads trips to the habitat of the birds for bird watchers to experience the majesty of the birds in wild habitat. Anyone seeing such a magnificent creature in full and liberated flight cannot help but to aspire to save the species.

What would we be without them?

In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand and understand only what we are taught.

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