Entry on the Hyacinthine Macaw (Page 285) in Parrots in Captivity

by W.T.GREENE published in three volumes between 1884 and 1887.

This classic work with its 81 lithographs after A.F.Lydon including one of a Hyacinthine Macaw has become a serious victim of the print market. It remains popular with a facsimile edition being published in 1979 by t.f.h, and is included on the Blue Macaws website because of its continuing appeal to aviculture. The entry on the Hyacinthine Macaw is mainly an inaccurate rehash of previously published information with the most interesting detail being that of prices in the bird market at the time for blue macaws.

Psittacus hyacinthinus, Russ.

SYNONYMS: Ara hyacinthina, GR. SCHLGL.;

Psittacus Augustus, SHW.; Psittacara cobaltina, BRJ.;

Macrocercus Augustus, STPH.; Macrocercus hyacinthinus, LSS.; Anodorhynchus Maximiliani.; SPX;

Ara hyacinthinus, FNSCH.; Sittace hyacinthinus, WGL.

GERMAN: Der hyazinthblauer Arara.

This is a very rare bird, possessed by a few Zoological Gardens only; its general colour is deep blue, and it is, as Dr. Russ remarks, distinguished by a particularly colossal beak (mit besonders kolossalem Schnabel).

A very fine specimen has survived for a considerable time in the Gardens of the London Zoological Society, where it has learned to repeat a few words, and is especially partial to the youthful visitors, who, with no lavish hand, share their buns and cakes with it, as it screams and swings just above their heads on the perch to which it is chained under the trees, by the Parrot-house, facing the Regent's Canal.

The usual diet is maize, hemp, monkey-nuts, to which may be added biscuits, nuts of all kinds, apples and fruit; it is one of the few Parrots in the " Zoo " that is permitted to drink, and certainly appears to thrive on the regimen provided for it.

We do not admire any of the Macaws, and would not be tempted to keep one of them for a good deal ; still we cannot quite agree with Mr. Wiener that "their huge size, brilliant feathers, and loud screams are a very good advertisement for a travelling menagerie, to whom amateurs had better abandon these birds, unless some one would care to construct a wrought-iron in-door aviary (I doubt whether bricks and mortar would be proof against their beaks) to make an attempt at breeding."

Dr. Russ quotes the price of one of these birds at from six hundred marks to nine hundred marks-the mark being about equivalent to an English shilling.

This bird is stated, on the authority of Azara, to depart from the general habits of the family in selecting a nesting-place, and instead of rearing its young brood in a hollow tree, to scrape out for itself a burrow in the bank of some stream; also to lay but two eggs to a sitting, and to rear two broods in the season.

It would be curious to find out the reason, or reasons that have compelled the departure of this bird from the habits general to the greater number of its congeners, but it is hopeless to make the attempt, unless some one should acquire a knowledge of the creature's language, and obtain a personal explanation from the bird itself; it cannot be from lack of hollow trees in which to breed, for the Hyacinthine Macaw inhabits the same regions as many of the tree-nesting Macaws, the Amazon Parrots, and the Toucans; and it can scarcely be that the banks of a stream, in a country subject. to inundations, afford a securer dwelling-place than the hollow trees in which so many of its relations live.

There is no rule without an exception, it is said, and it probably is in order to prove the rule that Parrots build in hollow trees, that the Hyacinthine Macaw, and a few others, have selected for themselves a dwelling place of a totally different character.

We have no knowledge of these birds having bred in captivity, but from indications we have observed in the specimen living in the Gardens of the London Zoological Society in the Regent's Park, we should say there would be no difficulty in inducing them to breed, were they but provided with suitable accommodation, in a dwelling place of sufficient extent to contain a stream with a bank, and a hollow tree or two, when it would be extremely interesting to observe on which of the two situations they would fig their choice.

Will some one, at the "Zoo", or out of it - preferably out of it - make the attempt, and let us know the result. We would do it, but unfortunately have not the necessary accommodation: but there are plenty of rich amateurs to whom the expenditure of £50 or so in the gratification of their peculiar hobby is no object at all, let some of these try what they can do, and determine, as far as can be practically done, whether it is by choice, or from necessity, that the Hyacinthine Macaw makes a burrow in a bank, instead of in a tree, for the purpose of rearing its callow brood; for it is only by thus experimenting that this and other kindred and equally interesting questions can be solved.

Though noisy, the Macaws, and the Hyacinthine species in particular, are fairly intelligent birds, and may be taught to speak, not only single words, but even short sentences: the specimen in our Zoological Gardens, for instance, always shouts out, when he sees us approaching him, "Come along, come along", and occasionally, "Hello there! give us a piece ", or words to that effect; so that, if we had accommodation for them, we should feel inclined to try some of them for breeding; but surrounded as we are by neighbours, most of whom have no sympathy with our ornithological pursuits, we feel that to attempt to keep any of these fine birds is simply impracticable, for they are so terribly noisy, that a summons or two to appear before the County Court Judge as a nuisance would be certain to greet us before long, and we have no desire thus to figure before the world; so we are fain to restrict our collection, and keep only the comparatively silent members of the Parrot race.

Dr. Russ calls this bird the largest of them all (der grösste von allen), but it is much of a size with the Red and Yellow and the Yellow and Blue Macaws, although larger than the Military Macaw, and quite three times the size of the bird to which the name of Illiger was given by Burmeister.

The beak of this species is truly, as Dr. Russ terms it, colossal, jet black, and appears calculated to give a formidable bite, but the creature that owns it, is, at least all the specimens of the species that we have known, extremely gentle, and may be freely handled, even by strangers, which is more than most of the Parrots will permit, speaking much for its intelligence and docility; it is a pity it is so seldom imported, but even in its own country it does not appear to be very common; another incentive to attempt breeding it in captivity.

The Hon. and Rev. F. G. Dutton's account of the Hyacinthine Macaw (Ara hyacinthina).

The Hyacinthine Macaw deserves to head the list, not only of Macaws but of Parrots, for it is probably the biggest Parrot out. Its colour is a deep, puce blue, not so grey in tinge as the Glaucous Macaw, which is otherwise very like it in size and colour. It has only a very small yellow cere at the side of the beak, instead of the bare cheeks of the Red and Blue, and Blue and Yellow Macaws.

The Hyacinthine and Glaucous Macaws differ in a marked manner from the other Macaws, not only in the size of their beak and the portentious strength of their jaws (my Hyacinthine easily bent the wires of one of Groom's indestructible Macaw cages), but also in their disposition. Not that I have anything to say against the disposition of the other Macaws, as will be seen later on, but every Hyacinthine and Glaucous Macaw I have seen has been gentle, and ready to allow any one to handle them. I approach strange Macaws of the other kinds with caution, by no means sure that their tempers may not have been spoilt, or that they may not reserve their affection exclusively for their owners, but I have no fear of the sort with these two Macaws, although I have seen some half dozen, they were all equally good-tempered. They are much less noisy too than the other Macaws, though when they do scream the noise is in proportion to their size. I do not however think that they have the same intelligence as the others, and I am afraid their amiability has something to do with stupidity, as I never came across one that talked. Mine imitated the cackling of a hen to perfection, but it was so occupied with repeating that performance that it appeared to have no time for acquiring any other. The other Macaws did not appear to recognise it as a congener, for they were as afraid of it as if it had been a hawk without the slightest reason, for it was nearly as afraid of them. I did not keep it long, for I like to turn my Macaws out loose, and I was afraid of the mischief this bird's beak might do amongst the garden trees, and as I was offered a good price for it, I let it go. The Hyacinthine Macaw is sufficiently scarce, though not so rare as the Glaucous Macaw: about £10 is the price for either of them.

Before leaving the all blue Macaws, I may mention one other, a very rare one, Spix's. This is much smaller than the other two; it is the bantam of the all blue Macaws. It has no naked space at all round the cheeks, the beak and legs are black, and the plumage is a very grey blue. I have only known of one specimen in captivity, that now in the Regent's Park collection. This bird has all the appearance of having been captured as an adult, as its wing appears to have been broken by a shot. Its unsociability therefore says nothing as to what sort of pet a Spix would make. I should think a nice one, if one could get one that had been taken from the nest.

Latest News

  • Saturday 23rd March 2024
    More welcome news about the Spix’s macaws in the wild

    Welcome news about the re-introduced Spix’s macaw. Last weekend the field staff in Brazil were monitoring nest boxes and discovered a pair with three newly-hatched chicks. They took video footage and this is available on the ACTP website

    ... Read More »


 " 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)