Excerpts referring to the Hyacinthine Macaw and its feeding habits from The Naturalist on the Amazons

by Henry Walter BATES published in 1863.

Henry Walter Bates was born in 1825, the eldest of four sons of a hosier in Leicester. After winning prizes for Latin and Greek at school, he became interested in insects and at the age of 18 produced his first paper on beetles, which was published in The Zoologist. A Popular Miscellany of Natural History. After finishing his formal education in 1838, Bates worked as an apprentice in his father's business before transferring to Allsopp's Brewery in Burton-on-Trent.

In 1844 he started corresponding with Alfred Wallace, a fellow entomologist, who was two years older and whom he met by chance in the local library in Leicester, when Wallace was teaching at the Collegiate School there. In 1847 Bates visited Wallace at Neath in Wales. In the same year an American called W.H.Edwards published a brief account of his journeys in Brazil entitled A Voyage up the Amazon. This inspired them to travel themselves to South America to collect specimens and as Wallace told Bates in a letter " to solve the problem of the origin of the species."

The two arrived in Brazil in May 1848 on board the Mischief owned by an Englishman, who lived in Pará (Belem). In August after several small expeditions around the city, they travelled up the Tocantins with the Canadian manager of a saw mill, who was searching for timber suitable for his mill. Whilst on this trip the two naturalists saw their first Hyacinthine Macaw, which they tried to collect without success.

This expedition is described in the chapter entitled " The Tocantins and Cameta ". Bates' entry for 7th September, 1848 includes the following

"We saw here, for the first time, the splendid Hyacinthine Macaw (Macrocercus hyacinthinus, Lath., the Araruna of the natives), one of the finest and rarest of the Parrot family. It only occurs in the interior of Brazil, from 16° S.lat to the southern border of the Amazons valley. It is three feet long from the beak to the tip of the tail, and is entirely of a soft hyacinthine blue colour, except around the eyes, where the skin is naked and white. It flies in pairs, and feeds on the hard nuts of several palms, but especially of the Mucuja (Acrocomia lasiopatha). These nuts, which are so hard as to be difficult to break with a heavy hammer, are crushed to a pulp by the powerful beak of this macaw."

After their return Bates made a trip alone to the coast of Carnapijo, a peninsula, which extends towards the island of Marajó, returning to Pará in February 1849. By then he had collected some 1,200 species of insects as well as birds. In June he set out to explore the lower reaches of the Tocantins around Cameta, while Wallace explored the Guama and Caprim Rivers. After returning once again to Pará he departed for the upper Amazon. He reached Manaus in January 1850 where he was joined by Wallace. Later that spring they separated again. Wallace explored the Rio Negro and Uapes River followed by the upper reaches of the Orinoco before returning home to England in 1852.

Bates meanwhile moved onto the upper Amazon and made the little town of Ega, now known as Tefe, his base for the next seven years. By the middle of 1851 he was feeling lonely and travelled back to Pará, where he caught yellow fever. After recovering he arranged for his specimens, which were selling well in England, to be shipped, restocked and returned to Santarem. In June 1852 made an expedition up the Tapajos, where he encountered Hyacinthine macaws again.

He wrote on 21st August

"One of my objects was to obtain specimens of the hyacinthine macaw, whose range commences on all the branch rivers of the Amazons which flow from the south through the interior of Brazil, with the first cataracts."

A few days later he records

" I obtained six good specimens of the hyacinthine macaw, besides a number of smaller birds. . ...... The macaws were found feeding in small flocks on the fruit of the Tucuma palm (Astryocaryum tucuma), the excessively hard nut of which is crushed into pulp by the powerful beak of the bird. I found the craws of all the specimens filled with the sour paste to which the stone-like fruit had been reduced. Each bird took me three hours to skin , and I was occupied with these and other specimens every evening until midnight, after my laborious day's hunt; working on the roof of my cabin by the light of a lamp."

He returned to Santarem in October 1852and spent most of the following year around Villa Nova. Then he moved back to Ega, where he remained until 1857. Whilst on an excursion to São Paulo de Olivença on the Colombian border he had a severe fever, which left him with

" shattered health and dampened enthusiasm."

In January 1858 he returned to Ega, where he remained for a year before departing for Pará for the last time. In June 1859 he left Brazil to return to England via New York. He had been in Brazil for eleven years, mostly on his own, and collected 14,000 different insect species and more than 700 specimens of other animals. Before his visit to the upper Amazon little was known about its fauna apart from the specimens collected by Spix and Martius during their visit to Brazil between 1817 and 1820.

Bates went on to marry, father five children, write an account of his travels entitled The Naturalist on the Amazons, the first edition of which was published in 1863, be appointed Assistant Secretary of the Royal Geographic Society in 1864 for the remainder of his life and publish numerous papers and essay on insects. He died in 1892 aged 67 years.

P.S The The Naturalist on the Amazons was prefaced by "An Appreciation by Charles Darwin, which included the following passage

" One of the most interesting excursions made by Mr. Bates from Pará was the ascent of the river Tocantins- the mouth of which lies about 45 miles from the city of Pará. This was twice attempted. On the second occasion - our author being in company with Mr. Wallace - the travellers penetrated as far as the rapids of Arroyos, about 130 miles from its mouth. ........The Hyacinthine Macaw (Ara hyacintha ) is another natural wonder, first met here. This splendid bird, which is occasionally brought alive to the Zoological gardens of Europe, "only occurs in the interior of Brazil from 16°S.L to the southern border of the Amazon valley." Its enormous beak - which must strike even the most unobservant with wonder - appears to be adapted to enable it to feed on the nuts of the Mucujá Palm (Acrocomia lasiospatha). These nuts, which are so hard as to be difficult to break with a heavy hammer, are crushed to pulp by the powerful beak of this Macaw."

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