Successful hand-rearing of Hyacinthine Macaws (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus LATHAM,1790)

by Carmen LAFIN Published in Die Voliere, Issue 10/86.

With a total length of 100 cm (40 ins) the Hyacinthine Macaw is the largest parrot. Hyacinthine macaws live in the gallery forests and marshland areas of southern Brazil. They are to be found in particular in central and eastern Mato Grosso as well as the Pantanal. Until recently the Pantanal was a virtually untouched lowland area in south-western Brazil, but has now been opened up by the Brazilian government so that it will not be long before this unique area is ruined. With the opening up of this border region with Bolivia and Paraguay, the Hyacinthine Macaw, which still exists there in large numbers, will be put increasingly under pressure. In small groups they fly through the forest in search of suitable food. The various palm fruits are of special importance as the main food of this skilful flier. Berries, fruits and buds of differing types also form part of their diet. In the evening several groups seek out communal roosting places, which they then leave in small groups of mostly 2 to 8 individuals to search for food. They use tree hollows (palms) as well as holes in river banks for nesting.

The life in the wild of this imposing parrot is still little researched. The reasons for this lie in the inaccessibility of their habitat, which is largely still unexplored. Hyacinthine macaws have always been much sought after by zoos and similar institutions, where they were once mostly kept on their own or with other macaw species. This is, however, no longer justifiable especially as they are threatened in the wild by human intrusion in their habitat. As the population in captivity is not large, considerable effort to breed the species is called for. The long term future of the species could be assured by a dedicated breeding programme. It would also result in much biological data being gathered. As almost nothing is known about successful breeding with Hyacinthine Macaws , I relate my experiences in hand-rearing below.

To date I have been able to rear Hyacinthine Macaws. The adult pair are kept in a spacious birdhouse alongside other parrots. The birds occupy various aviaries in groups, which allow them to fly and provide opportunity for moving around (climbing. flight). Great value is attached to development possibilities. After three unsuccessful attempts at breeding my Hyacinthine Macaws tried again in Spring 1982. In the middle of the feeding platform, where nuts and nut shells carefully broken up into small pieces, two eggs were laid four days apart. The female started incubation after laying the first egg and was fed by the male regularly. After 35 days I removed the eggs and inspected them. I discovered that they contained dead embryos of about 14 days.

We at once built a nestbox and covered the floor with a thick layer of saw-dust. Brazilian pine - a hardwood - was used to prevent the nestbox being destroyed - the Hyacinthine Macaws chew very heavily. All corners and edges were also covered with metal strips. The box was 150 cm (60 ins) high and the diameter 60 cm (24 ins). The entrance was 20 cm (8 ins) wide. A bathtub grip was used as access perch and a flap was provided for any necessary inspection.

This was immediately accepted by the adults. The first egg was laid on 31st May, 1982 and the second four days later. As with the earlier attempts the female again incubated the eggs reliably and intensively. She was fed again by the male, but always outside the nest. The male was never observed in the nest.

After an incubation period of exactly 28 days the first egg hatched and the young macaw was fed well by the female. The parents did not take anything other than their usual food, which consisted of brazils, walnuts, peanuts, hazelnuts, apple, banana, grapes, fresh corn on the cob, cucumber and carrot. We noticed they ate more carrot than usual. Vitamins were added to their drinking water. The second egg hatched four days later. As this chick was however not fed, it was dead already by the following day. The first hatchling developed well. However it came to a violent end. At six weeks it was suddenly killed by the adult male, who was observed in the nest for the first time. Perhaps the reason was lack of animal protein.

In Spring 1983 two eggs were laid again, which were incubated. One hatched, was fed, but died after three days. On opening the second egg a fully formed chick was found, which was stuck to the egg shell.

The pair tried again and on 31st May, the same day as in the previous year, eggs were laid again. The clutch consisted again of two eggs. On 1st July, 1993 " Amigo " hatched out of the second egg. The first egg contained a fully formed, dead chick. I left " Amigo " for six weeks in the nest, but removed him when I noticed the male was again showing great interest in the nestbox.

" Amigo " was then hand-reared. He was fed at three-hourly intervals from 7.00 a.m to 10.00 p.m. At first there were six meals daily, which I slowly reduced in number. A very soft mix was fed consisting of oat porridge, dextrose, low-fat milk powder and mineral supplements (Korvimin ZVT). A tea-spoon was used for feeding and presented no problems at all. As the young macaw increased in weight the mix was enriched with ground sunflower seed and nuts, squashed fruit of all types, carrot juice, crushed egg, low-fat yoghurt, rusk as well as calcium. I made sure the young macaw received sufficient animal protein with dog biscuit, cottage cheese (quark) and low-fat milk powder as Hyacinthine Macaws eat animal matter in the wild (caterpillars, snails etc.).

" Amigo ", my very first young macaw thrived. His first flight attempt ended after one hundred metres in an oak tree on my land, which was more than 20 metres (67 feet) high and from which he had to be rescued by the fire service that night. He is very tame and confiding. To promote strong muscle growth I provided climbing opportunity at an early stage with branches of varying diameters and a climbing frame. In the meantime other young macaws have come along,, which were removed at six weeks for hand-rearing as I feared for the young. The incubation period was regularly exactly 28 days. The following have hatched to date with the names of the successful hand-rearings in brackets.

1stt July, 1983 = 1 young macaw (" Amigo") 
7th December, 1984 = 2 young (" Bambino ")
16th May, 1985 = 3 young (" Cleopatra")
2nd to 8th September, 1985 = 4 young ("Dorothea")
In the meantime the adults have bitten the inspection flap so much that it had to be renewed. A glass flap encased in metal was installed to prevent it being destroyed again. This transparent opening has been of great advantage as it eases inspections. The adults do not feel disturbed in any way. Finally it should be mentioned that the relationship between keeper and macaws is most important for breeding successfully. That's why I spend considerable time with my macaws and it has paid off extremely well.  


GRAHL. W. de (I985): Papageien, Ulmer, Stuttgart 
HOPPE. D. (I983): Aras, Enzyklopädie der Papageien und Sittiche; Bd. 10. Horst Müller-Verlag. Bomlitz.

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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)