Breeding Lear's Macaw (Anodorhynchus leari) at the Busch Gardens (Tampa, Florida)

by Ed BISH (Curator of Psittacines)). Published in the Avicultural Magazine 1985 (Conservation Special Double Issue (Vol. 91, pages 30-31).

The first hatching of a Lear's or Indigo Macaw occurred at Busch Gardens in July 1982. The Lear's Macaw is very similar in appearance to the Hyacinth but smaller in size and greenish-blue in plumage. This species was known only from captive birds which reached collectors and zoos in the mid-l9tb century. It is kept in fewer than half a dozen collections outside its native Brazil and had never previously nested in captivity.

The male of the Busch Gardens pair was on breeding loan from another well-known Florida collection, Parrot Jungle in Miami. On the same day it hatched, thc chick was taken to Miami, where it was successfully hand-reared by Mr. and Mrs. Jerome Scherr, owners of Parrot Jungle.

On 22nd September, 1982, a second chick was hatched at Busch Gardens, and it was being reared by the parents but did not survive. Two chicks were hatched in 1983, but did not survive. This year, the first clutch of three eggs was infertile. Two chicks hatched from the second clutch of three eggs on 27th and 29th June and are now being hand-reared by Mr. and Mrs. Scherr.

The birds which make up our breeding pair are quite old, the male having been in the Parrot Jungle collection for over 25 years, and the female in the Busch Gardens collection for over 20 years.

At Busch Gardens they are housed in a cage measuring 3 ft (0.92 m) square and 7 ft (2.14m) high. The nesting area is behind a concrete block wall, with an opening large enough for a macaw to enter the nesting area, which measures 3 ft square and 4 ft (1.22m) high. The nesting facilities inside the nesting area consist of two metal wash tubs, wired together at their open end, with a small opening cut in the top tub. Wood shavings are used for nesting material. The tubs and nesting area are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected twice a year, and all precautions are taken to insure a healthy environment for this pair of birds. They have been laying three to four clutches of eggs every year, so quite a lot of time is spent in the nesting area.

Their diet consists of peanuts, sunflower seed, safflower seed, small dog biscuits, wheat germ oil, carrots, celery, Chinese cabbage, apples, beets and vitamins.

Breeding Lear's Macaw is a most notable achievement as this species is the rarest and most endangered of all parrots. It has often been described as one of the greatest mysteries in South American ornithology for, until 1978, all that was known about it was that it came from Brazil. The location of this species had never been found in the wild by naturalists, although it was thought to exist in north-eastern Brazil, in the state of Bahia. Then in 1978, Helmut Sick, a Brazilian ornithologist, discovered the Lear's Macaw in an inaccessible wilderness area on the Bahia plateau, previously thought to be an unlikely habitat for any macaw species. A flock of 20 birds was seen, but the range of this species is apparently very limited and the total population small. It is a fortunate coincidence that part of this Macaw's habitat lies within a reserve.

For many years this species was thought to be a hybrid of the Hyacinth A. hyacinthinus and the Glaucous Macaw A. glaucus, but this theory has now been discounted since the discovery of a viable wild population which is ecologically isolated from the other two species. Concern has already been expressed that collectors and dealers might seek out these birds due to their enormous commercial value, and measures are now being taken to protect this area.

Meanwhile, breeding Lear's Macaw in captivity is of very great importance. At this time, there are not many Lear's Macaws in captivity - two in Brazil, one in England, one in Paris, and two in the United States other than the breeding pair at Busch Gardens.

(Website editor's note: Now (January 2000) outside Brazil there are two females at Busch Gardens, the offspring of the old pair mentioned above, two confiscated macaws with the Singapore authorities, three confiscated macaws with the British authorities and six or seven in the collection of a Middle Eastern ruler. The latter were believed to have been illegally transported from Brazil via Russia to the Czech Republic before arriving at their present location.)

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 " Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret "

( If you drive out nature with a pitchfork, she will soon find a way back)

Horace (65-8 BC)