My experience in breeding the Hyacinthine Macaw

by Gerd VOLKEMER. Published in Gefiederte Welt (Issue 1/85) and translated by the website editor.

Hyacinthine Macaws, the largest parrots on Earth, are also one of the most interesting species. Their size and plumage colour are very impressive in themselves, but for those, who know parrots well, their character and behaviour are even more unusual and quite different from all other macaw species. In aviculture every Hyacinthine Macaw can become confiding to a certain extent towards its keeper. It depends on the bird itself and the conditions under which it is kept. If one has become confiding, it is always interested in conversing and answers the words of its keeper with its own sounds and body language. The macaw may try to impress by raising its crown feathers or biting a branch. It may even feint attack and immediately run away. It may be in two minds whether to accept the proffered peanut or not - it shows this by moving from one foot to the other. It also happens that two macaws take each other by the bill, nod to the keeper or place their tails over each other as if mating. Then they make constant warbling sounds.

The species has already been described so often that I shall dispense with detailing further characteristics. But I should like to relate some personal experiences with them and observations made. I could not establish any readily discernible differences between male and female. My assumption that the yellow periophthalmic ring was more orange in the males and lemon yellow in the females did not turn out to be accurate. I did not see the oft quoted differences in size, head and bill shape in my birds.

In 1977 I bought an alleged pair from a dealer, but one died soon thereafter. I believed the surviving bird to be a male. Fortunately in 1981 I succeeded in importing several Hyacinthine Macaws with the kind permission of the Brazilian authorities for research and breeding purposes. (Ed: Brazil imposed a total ban on the export of its wildlife in 1984) Only one of them was an adult and I decided to put the surviving macaw from the original pair with the new group. There soon developed a clear attachment between it and the newly arrived adult.

These two birds were then separated from the rest and put into an aviary on their own. There was an open area measuring 4 metres long, 2 metres high and 11/2 metres wide (13 x 61/2 x 5 ft) with a closed area 1.75m long, 2m high and 11/2m wide (6 x 61/2 x 5ft). The temperature was kept during winter at just over freezing point. Obviously Hyacinthine macaws are not susceptible to cooler conditions.

The nestbox was made of softwood, measured 1 m high and 50cm square (3'4" x 1'7" x 1'7") with an entrance 20 cm (8") wide. I put metal on all the corners to prevent the birds destroying the box. Then I fixed an oak branch to the entrance hole to lend the whole a natural appearance and to give the birds the opportunity to bite on wood, where it would not do more damage. Then I covered the bottom of the nestbox with decaying wood.

I fed them all kinds of fruit, dried beef and veal bones, a mix of maize, oats, wheat, hemp and small seed such as sunflower as well as peanuts. In addition I gave them calcium, mineral supplements and small pieces of mussel shell. Every four weeks they also received multi-vitamins dissolved in water for a period of five days. They enjoyed consuming small stones measuring 1 to 4 cm almost certainly to assist digestion.

At the end of May 1982 the pair showed signs of preparing for copulation with the female often visiting the nestbox. Now it was clear that the original macaw was a female.and not a male as I had thought. The birds defended the nestbox as soon as the aviary it was approached, but no egg had been laid. The female disappeared into the nestbox, looked out with her head and bit the oak branch while the male perched nearby and threatened me. In between whiles both birds sat on a branch, held each other by the bill - the female was more active in this - nodded in this position and made the known warbling sounds. Whilst they were sitting close together, they started to mate. In doing this the tails were crossed over each other, the male put one of his feet on the back of the female and they pressed their rumps together.

Only the female brooded, but both birds continued to defend the nestbox. So intensively that it was very difficult to carry out an inspection. Once I saw two white eggs, but 14 days later they had disappeared. The birds remained aggressive and on 2nd June I found two more eggs, which measured 5 x 31/2 cm and weighed 20 g. After 30 days incubation one hatched, but I could not give an exact time as the birds were too aggressive and constantly attempted to prevent me from inspecting the nestbox. During the first week the young bird made some weak sounds, but later kept quiet except when it imitated the cries of the adults when they became excited. Its eyes opened at 14 days.

In addition to the food mentioned above I now provided sprouted wheat and oats, sunflower kernels and maize as well as unripe corn on the cob. At 3 months a completed fledged Hyacinthine baby, almost as big as its parents, left the nestbox. The main difference to them was a slightly paler yellow periophthalmic ring and slightly darker plumage.

I have had further success with this pair with two more young and another pair produced a young macaw in 1983. This makes me confident in being able to establish a breeding group to contribute to protecting these magnificent birds in the wild and maintaining their population.

Postscript from the editor of Gefiederte Welt: Another sensational breeding of the Hyacinthine Macaw

The above text was ready for publishing when the Frankfurt daily newspaper (10.10.84) reported with a picture on the successful breeding of the Hyacinthine Macaw in a shop window of a local pet shop. After several unsuccessful attempts in previous years the pair had become so accustomed to human visitors that their presence no longer worried them. Nine eggs were laid, one of which hatched. The young macaw was well fed and has already fledged with excellent prospects of surviving to adulthood. The picture showed the female feeding the young macaw at 14 days. This is again evidence that they can be bred in captivity, although it had long been believed scarcely possible.

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