John Latham was one of the most respected and learned ornithologists of his time. He lived from 1740 to 1837 (97 years) and was visited by Lord Palmerston, the prime minister of the young Queen Victoria, in the final years of his long life. His most important works were the General Synopsis of Birds (1781-5), the Index ornithologicus (1790), and the General History of Birds (1821-8), which he started when he was 81 years old. He designed, sketched and coloured the illustrations himself.
1. The generally accepted first description of the Hyacinthine Macaw is that of Latham, which was published in Latin in his encyclopaedic work Index ornithologicus (Vol. 1, P.84, No.5) in London in 1790.
The original text was as follows:-
Genus V. Psittacus
Rostrum aduncum, mandibula superiore mobili, plerisque cera instructa. Nares in ristri basi. Lingua carniosa, obtusa, integra. Pedes scansori
There followed descriptions of four other macaw species, then....
Psitt. macr. violaceo - cæruleus, capite colloque dilutioribus, orbitus gulaque nudis flavis. Magnitudo Ps. Ararauna - 2 ped. 4 poll. longus. Rostrum maximum toto nigrum; caput et collum cæruleum; corpus faturate-cæruleum ad violaceum vergens; remiges rectricesque cæruleo-violaceæ margine virescentes; pedes cinereo-nigrantis. Mus. D. Parkinson
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2. Entry in General Synopsis of Birds
Although this text appeared in German in John Latham’s Übersicht der Vögel published in Nuremburg in 1793, it does not seem to have appeared in English until more than twelve years later when the Supplement II to the General Synopsis of Birds was published in 1802. The entry on page 80 is as follows:-
*WITH UNEVEN TAILS
Psitt. Hyacinthinus, Ind. Orn I, P.84
Hyacinthine maccaw (sic), lever. Mus. P.99 pl in do.
Desciption: This rare species is the size of the Blue Maccaw, length 2 feet four inches: the bill is very large and black; the head blue, the body very deep blue, inclining to violet: the quills and tail are violet blue, with a tinge of green on the margins: the legs dusky ash colour: the orbits and chin are both destitute of feathers, and of a yellow colour: the tail shaped as in the Blue Maccaw, but not much more than half the length.
Place: This is in the collection of Mr. Parkinson, to whom it was given after death by lord Orford, it is by no means ascertained from whence it came, but as all the other Maccaws are of American origin, it may not unreasonably be presumed that the same country gave birth to this species.
(End of entry)
3. In Latham’s General History of Birds, which was published between 1821 and 1828 and accompanied by this plate, the relevant text on Page 109 in Volume II was as follows:-
Psittacus Hyacinthinus, Ind. Orn.i.p.84
--------- Augustus, Mus. Lev. No.2. t.ii.
Le Guacamayo bleu, Voy. d’Azara. iv. No.273.,
Hyacinthine Macaw,Gen.Syn.Sup.ii p.80. Nat.Misc. pl.609. Shaw’s Zool. vii.393
THIS rare species is the size of the blue Macaw; length two feet four inches. Bill very large and black; cere at the base straw-colour; the body very deep blue, inclining to violet; quills and tail violet-blue, with a tinge of green on the margins; orbits and chin covered with a naked, yellowish, skin; tail as in the blue Macaw, but not more than half the length; legs dusky ash-colour.
Inhabits South America. Lord Orford was in possession of a living one of this species, and the only one known to exist; which, after death, was introduced into the Leverian Museum; but at that time not known from whence it came.
Mr.Pennant gives an account of a similar one, in these words " The late Lord Orford had a Parrot, a true Macaw, which he was certain came from the East Indies; it was as large as the Brazilian : the upper part blue; the breast below deep yellow." This account was transmitted to Lord Barrington, in a letter from Lord Orford, August 28, l788.-M. d’Azara found several pairs of the Hyacinthine Macaw between the 27 and 29 deg. of lat. of South America, but never more to the northward; though, he is assured, that they are also to be met with in lat. 331/2; and that they not only build in the holes of the trees, but likewise in holes made in the perpendicular banks of the rivers Parana and Uruguay. The female differs only in being smaller: one of these, supposed a male; in Mr. Bullock’s Museum, has the tail as long as the rest of the bird."
(End of entry)
Comment by website editor: This description highlights the confusion that existed at the time between the Hyacinthine Macaw and the Glaucous Macaw (Anodorhynchus glaucus), which was commented upon in the first description of the Lear’s Macaw Anodorhynchus by Prince Bonaparte in the Iconographie des Perroquets published in 1857-8. The detail in provided in the last paragraph of the text above from Azara related to the Glaucous Macaw, not the Hyacinthine Macaw.
Sunday 11th September 2022
Good and bad news from Brazil
There is some good news and some bad news from Brazil this week. The good news is that a pair of released lear’s macaws have successfully bred in the wild of Bahia. At the end of July 2022 The Lear’s Macaw Release Project fieldwork co- ... 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)