Entry on Hyacinthine Macaw in Ornithologie brésilienne ou Histoire des oiseaux du Brésil remarquables par leur plumages, leur chant ou leurs habitudes

by Dr. Jean-Théodore DESCOURTILZ published between 1854 and 1856 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Jean-Théodore Descourtilz was one of the eight sons of the French adventurer/ naturalist Michel Etienne Descourtilz. and supplied the illustrations to the latter's Flore médicale des Antilles, published in Paris between 1821 and 1829. Jean-Théodore prepared and published Oiseaux brillans du Brésil in Paris in 1834. His second great work from which this entry with illustration is taken was published in four parts with 48 hand-coloured lithographs in Rio de Janeiro between 1854 and 1856. An English edition with the same illustrations, printed by Waterlow & Sons appeared in 1856.

Descourtilz worked for the National Museum of Rio de Janeiro. He died on 13th January 1855 at Riacho in Brazil. A commemorative facsimile of the work was published in Portuguese by Livraria Kosmos Editôra in 1944 with notes by João Moojen.

Original text in French (followed by English translation)

16. Ara Hyacinthinus Ara hyacinthe
Vulg. Arara Roxa Pl.8

Ce magnifique Oiseau, dont quelques individus, qui forment peut-être une race à part, atteignent de fortes dimensions, varie quelquefois dans la nuance de son plumage; celui-ci, constamment uniforme, est d'un bleu violet, plus ou mois obscur, mais la peau nue qui entoure l'œil et encadre le demi-bec inférieur, est toujours d'un jaune foncé.

Cet Ara habite les Provinces intérieures du Brésil, mais il est beaucoup plus rare que ses congénères dont il a d'ailleurs toutes les habitudes. On l'apprivoise avec facilité, et il apprend à articuler nettement des phrases entières. Son caractère se plie à la captivité et il devient excessivement doux. Dans l'état de nature il place son nid non seulement dans les troncs d'arbres vermolus, mais encore dans les trous, qui'il creuse avec son énorme bec, dans les terres escarpées qui bordent le cours des grandes rivières. Le matin, dès les premières lueurs du jour, il aime à rouler dans les Barreiros, cavités où l'eau a séjourné et d'où il est résulté un amas d'une boue encore liquide, dont il s'impregne, et qui ne lui permet de prendre son vol que lorsqu'elle s'est déssechée et que ses plumes ont repris leur première elasticité.

Website English translation

This magnificent bird, of which some individuals, forming perhaps a separate race, attain large size, varies sometimes in the hue of its plumage; the latter is always uniform and is a violet blue, more or less dark, but the bare skin surrounding the eye and framing the lower mandible is always a deep yellow.

This macaw lives in the interior provinces of Brazil, but is much rarer than its relatives, with whom it shares its behaviour. It tames easily and learns to articulate complete phrases clearly. Its character is submissive in captivity and it becomes extremely gentle. In the wild it not only nests in the trunks of rotten trees, but also in cavities, which it hollows out with its enormous bill in the steep banks along the courses of large rivers. In the morning during the first rays of day it likes to roll on the banks in hollows with stagnant water and where a layer of semi-liquid mud has formed, which saturates it and prevents it flying away until it has dried out and the feathers have regained their original elasticity.

(Website editor: There seems to be very little biographical information on Jean-Théodore Descourtilz. He is listed in French reference works as a painter, not a naturalist. The source(s) of the information on the macaws in the text above is unknown. In my experience Hyacinthine Macaws are poor speakers, although they are certainly gentle giants once tame. I have seen them rolling on the ground in the wild and in captivity, but never in mud pools, although this could be possible. I would appreciate comments on this from website visitors)

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Quotes

 " 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)