The Lear's Macaw. A booklet with essential information and project proposals

Produced by the Committee for the Recovery and Management of the Lear's Macaw. Edited by Ninian RICHARDSON and published in 1999 by UVPACK Editora.

(Website editor: I am pleased to be able to reproduce here the contents of the booklet recently produced by the Committee for the Recovery and Management of the Lear's Macaw. Apart from some brief essential information on all the blue macaws and more detailed information, including much new, about the Lear's Macaw it contains six proposals for related projects for the conservation and management of the latter. These proposals are also inter-related because they share resources to some extent. There appear to be some 170 Lear's Macaw in the wild and much can and should be done to increase their numbers as well as protect and conserve them. For serious enquiries only, i.e potential corporate and major private sponsors, website visitors should contact Ninian Richardson (see text for contact numbers) who has contributed much of his time and the resources of his company to publishing this booklet with its striking coverPlease note that in the species' interests any requests to visit the restricted area of the Lear's Macaws will be denied.)


The Committee for the Recovery and Management of the Lear's Macaw is made up of several members which together with IBAMA (The official Brazilian institution which deals with environmental questions) form a group responsible for the planning and implementation of projects involving the preservation of this bird.

Contacts with the Committee for the Recovery and Management of the Lear's Macaw can be made through the following members:

* Luiz Francisco Sanfilippo
Fundação Parque Zoológico de SP


* Carlos Yamashita
IBAMA/Sao Paulo

* Maria Iolita Bampi

* Monica Koch

* Pedro Scherer Neto
Museu do Capão da Imbuia/PR


Once known as the "Land of Parrots". and a leading country in the number of psittaceous species, macaws, parrots and parakeets among others, today Brazil is embarrassingly one of the countries that has the largest number of species of this family threatened by extinction. Of 71 originally existing species, 14 are threatened, 3 have an unknown status and 1 is considered to be extinct.

There are four kinds of blue macaw found in Brazil. They are all listed on the Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora - CITES, which determines, among other things, the animals and birds that cannot be traded or transported without a special document issued by the country's relevant authorities.


Cyanopsitta spixii

descriptive features - almost half the size of the Hyacinth Macaw, greenish-blue feathers with darker wings and tail. Bare mask like area around eye to upper mandible blackish grey.

distribution - Bahia's far north on the south side of the São Francisco river.

habitat - lives in gallery woodland in the interior where temporary streams allow the existence of higher trees.

breeding - nests inside the trunks of high trees.

present situation - considered an extinct species in the wild and listed in Appendix 1 of CITES.

present population - only one individual in the wild and approximately 68 in captivity.


Anodorhynchus glaucus (Extinct)

descriptive features - very similar to the Lear's Macaw, however, it is a little smaller and its feathers are a dull greenish blue. Bare orbital ring and semi-circular patch at base of lower mandible yellow.

distribution - originally found in a small area on the borders of East Paraguay, South East Brazil, West Uruguay and North Argentina, but at the beginning of the 19th century was more common along the Parana river.

habitat - lightly wooded grasslands,' marshes and river borders with good groves of yata or chatay palm trees (Butia yatay).

breeding - nests in rock cavities among cliffs.

present situation - very little is known about this species and there are no records of any live specimen since 1912 when the last specimen died at the London Zoo.

present population - extinct both in the wild and in captivity.


Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus

descriptive features - the largest and strongest bird of this family. Feathers are a blue cobalt with more violet on the wings. Bare orbital ring and strip at base of the lower mandible yellow.

distribution - found on the edge of tropical wetland forests and in the palm savannas of Mato Grosso, Maranhão, Piaui, Pará, Goias, Minas Gerais and Bahia.

habitat - palm savannas, and open dry woodland with gallery forest.

breeding - nests inside the trunks of big trees.

present situation - considered a vulnerable species and listed on Appendix 1 of CITES.

present population - not more than 2500 individuals.


Anodorhynchus leari

descriptive - very similar to the Hyacinth Macaw but smaller, feathers are metallic blue slightly tinged green. Bare orbital ring and semi-circular patch at base of lower mandible yellow.

distribution - found in the interior of Bahia.

habitat - Habitat "caatinga" thornscrub vegetation with licuri palm trees.

breeding - nests in the cavities of sandstone cliffs.

present situation - critically threatened species. Also listed on Appendix I of CITES.

present population - approximately 170 individuals in the wild and 18 known in captivity.


Although this bird was described in 1858 by Charles Lucien Bonaparte, Napoleon's nephew, it only truly started to be documented at the end of the seventies. At this time Helmut Sick led a group of well known ornithologists which located these birds south of Raso da Catarina in Bahia.


The species exists exclusively in Bahia throughout the municipalities of Canudos, Euclides da Cunha and Jeremoabo. More recently it has been reported that this bird can also be found in the municipalities of Santo Fé and Campo Formoso. This is an area dominated by flat top mountains with altitudes of 380 to 800 meters, where one can find canyons and sandstone cliffs eroded by streams. The natural landscape is "caatinga", a short bushy. and thorny vegetation characterised by a dry warm climate with irregular rain fall. This is certainly an important factor in the growth of the vegetation. Rain can be totally absent for many months, or even years, and is poorly distributed. Although the soil is fertile in many areas the "caatinga" predominates (photo 6) and includes species well adapted to lack of water such as the cactus (photo 7). When it rains the "caatinga" (white bush in the language of Brazil's Indians) immediately transforms from a white landscape into an exuberant green landscape, however, only for a short time.

During this period the plants blossom, bursting into flower (photo 8) bringing even more colour to the landscape. Although irrigation will allow agriculture in the "caatinga", a very deep water table makes such a large investment unfeasible. Agriculture is restricted to cattle and goat breeding (photo 9), as well as the cultivation of a few vegetables for consumption of the local population such as corn, beans and manioc. A kind of cactus is also grown within thorns, Opuntia sp. (photo10) to fed the cattle through the drought periods. Different from the other blue macaws, the Lear's Macaws do not roost on tops of trees, but shelter in the cavities of sandstone cliffs. At the end of the afternoons flocks arrive from different directions making a lot of noise and overfly the sandstone cliffs until a place to roost has been found.

Traditionally two areas are used as roosting sites: Toca velha, (Old hole) property of the Foundation Biodiversitas, in the municipality of Canudos, and the Serra Branca (White Mountain), a private property which is part of a farm with the same name in the Jeremoabo municipality. The Toca velha is a very dry area and its vegetation is typical of "caatinga". It has several sandstone cliffs (photo 11) which locally are known as "sacos". During breeding, pairs leave the group and start to live in the nest, which is situated inside cavities in the sandstone cliffs. At Toca velha there is a field base with an infrastructure which allows the presence of biologists (photo 12).

This is very important is because it allows studies to continue, involves the local population in the preservation work, and also helps to stop illegal trapping. Serra Branca, however, is a more humid area, its vegetation is a little richer than the vegetation at Toca Velha (photo 13) and it is full of beautiful rocky formations, (photo 14 and 15) The concentration of Lear's Macaws in this area is more significant during the breeding period.


The main diet of the Lear's Macaws are the fruits from the licuri palm tree Syagrus coronata (photo 16). The palm nuts consumed by the macaws are easily recognized because they are opened by perfect transverse cuts (photo 17). The Lear's Macaws. also feed from other fruits found in the area such as pinhão jatropha pohliana, umbu Spondias tuberosa and mucumã Dioclea sp. Sometimes the Lear's Macaws can be seen attacking corn plantations Zea mays, which causes some concern to the biologists, since this kind of behaviour upsets the local farmers.


The licuri palm tree (photo 18) originates from Southern Pernambuco and Bahia (up to Jequitinhonha river). This palm tree produces fruit during most of the year, but seems to have a defined flowering peak in each specific area. This phenomenon is related to rain fall. Rain fall does not fall equally over the whole area, however, this is important because it guarantees food the whole year round. In 1998 studies regarding this palm tree were made in order to determine its life cycle and the size of the areas it occupies. These studies showed that the fruit production of the licuri palm tree during the breeding season occurs in such a way that the ripening of the fruit is increasingly high during drought periods and reaches its peak at the beginning of the breeding season. This is good because more food is available, which improves the survival chances of the chicks.

During this study year the destruction of the licuri palm tree was 3% (average) of the total monitored trees (photo 19), and the highest numbers were found in areas that had been burnt to make pasture. This causes concern since there are no licuri seedlings in the two traditional feeding areas used by the Lear's Macaws (Santa Ana and California farms). Many small seedlings are destroyed due to cattle stepping on them, and using them as food during the drought periods. This may lead to the elimination of the licuri groves, the principle food of the Lear's Macaws.


At present it is known that there are 30 licuri palm tree groves from which the Lear's Macaws feed. These are formed by concentrations licuri palm trees mixed with higher trees (photo 20) from where the Lear's Macaws can safely inspect their feeding area. Birds frequently inspect the area in the following manner. The flock rests together on a high tree (photo 21) and in the meantime, two individuals fly to inspect the area (photos 22 and 23). They then return to the tree where the rest of the flock is resting, and the whole flock flies to inspect the area (photo 24 and 25), and may or may not decide to abandon the area (photo 26).

Therefore, it is understood that it is not enough to have just licuri palm trees to guarantee the survival of the Lear's Macaws. It is also necessary that these palm trees are situated in an area where high trees can also be found, otherwise the birds will not fly down to feed. Most of the feeding areas of the Lear's Macaw are distributed among the municipalities of Canudos, Jeremoabo and Euclides da Cunha.

However, a group of Lear's Macaws are occasionally seen feeding in other areas, such as Santo Fé and Campo Formoso. The monitoring of the feeding areas is extremely important for the preservation of the species. Furthermore, it is most important that the "caatinga" is also preserved, as well as the licuri palm trees.


The breeding season coincides with the beginning of the rains (end of the year) and extends up to May when the young birds start to leave the nest. The Lear's Macaws make their nests in the cavities of the sandstone cliffs, which can be found in Toca Velha and Serra Branca (photo 27). Little is known about the breeding habits of the Lear's Macaws. During studies made between 1997 and 1999 some information was collected. It was noticed that the birds that bred every year were not many and, although, some pairs may produce as many as 3 young birds, the average survival rate is only 2 birds per pair. These studies are important so that one can have an idea of how many young birds join the population each breeding season, which is a vital factor in determining if the population is growing or not.

Since 1979 several censuses were made in order to estimate the total number of Lear's Macaws. The result varied from 50 to 200 individua1s, however, recent simultaneous censuses confirmed an average of 170 birds. It is also known that the Lear's Macaws move from their traditional roosting areas to more humid areas, these moves coinciding with the drought periods. This may explain why Lear's Macaws can be found in other areas during very dry periods.


Officially there are only a few "known" birds in captivity. Eleven specimens at the São Paulo Zoo, two in Singapore, three in England and two in Busch Gardens. Nine specimens at the Sao Paulo Zoo were seized from a breeder in Rondônia, one specimen was seized in France and returned to Brazil (Photo 28), and very recently two birds were seized in São Paulo. The birds living in England and Singapore are being held by Customs and Excise, pending the Courts' decision. The Lear's Macaws in Busch Gardens were born in captivity, and descend from a pair obtained before the fifties when there were no laws protecting the fauna and, therefore, they are legal.

However, there are rumours of several other birds being held illegally in captivity. The discovery of birds in captivity always causes a controversy, because some people are under the impression that this is the only way to preserve a species threatened by extinction, however, holding birds in captivity should be considered as an alternative means of breeding and re-introducing young birds into the wild, and if this is not the case under no circumstances should holding birds in captivity be considered as preservation.

It is planned that the Lear's Macaws presently held in captivity in Brasil will be bred and re-introduced into the wild. Temporarily these birds have been installed by IBAMA at the São Paulo Zoo, however, projects are under way to transfer these birds to three specific breeding areas in Brazil. These areas will be chosen by using criteria such as climate, distance between areas, (so that natural catastrophes in one area won't effect the population in another area) logistics, infrastructure, costs etc. Beside this the breeding areas should be close to their natural vegetation "caatinga" so as to facilitate adaptation of the breeding pairs and the young to be released. Once the breeding stations have been constructed, strictly according to the book, the Lear's Macaw pairs will be transferred for adaptation and breeding.


The "caatinga" ecosystem of Brasil has never received the attention that it is due. The vegetation is often burnt for pasture and for agriculture In the "caatinga": goat breeding is also a serious threat. Local farmers use the licuri fruits as a food supplement for cattle and goats in the winter. The ecosystem is fragile and if not protected can lead to devastation and desert. The presence of the natural vegetation is indispensable in maintaining the delicate balance in the "caatinga", thus, guaranteeing food for the Lear's Macaws, and other species which depend on it for their survival.

This will also ensure the survival of other species, which although more common are just as important, such as the White Bellied Nothura Nothura boraguira, the Black Chested Buzzard Eagle,Geranoaetus melanoleucus (photo 29), the Blue Crowned Conure Aratinga acuticaudata, the Blue-fronted Amazon Amazona aestiva (photo 30); the Red Cowled Cardinal Paroaria dominicana(photo 31), among a number of others.


Many factors threaten the survival of these birds, however, the majority are caused by humans. Therefore, it is essential to study these factors and find solutions for each one of them. Since 1992 with the creation of the Special Working Group for the Preservation of the Lear's Macaw various projects have been planned. In 1997 The Committee for the Preservation of the Lear's Macaw,Anodorhynchus leari was formed. In 1999 this Committee joined up with the Committee of Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus and was called "The Committee for the Recovery and Management of theAnodorhynchus leari Lear's Macaw and Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus Hyacinth Macaw", with the purpose of continuing the work already started.

Also in 1997 the FNMA (Fundo Nacional do Meio Ambiente) donated funds, thus, enabling various projects to be completed. However, a lot of work still has to be done. It is necessary to maintain in the field one biologist, two trainees and an assistant, together with a means of getting around. This requires a four wheel drive vehicle, i.e Toyota and includes maintenance and spare parts. Besides this basic infrastructure various priorities should be established in order to carry out the field study.

Basic infrastructure
* 1 Field Biologist
* 2 trainees
* 1 Assistant
* Four wheel drive maintenance
* Fuel and maintenance


Monthly census of the Lear's macaw populations

The monthly census not only establishes the number of birds in the wild, but also at which times of the year they can be found at their roosting sites. The census is also important, so that statistics can be compared with other censuses made simultaneously in other areas, so that population movements can be monitored. During 1998 monthly censuses were made which were important in establishing the average number of birds in the area. However, this work should be improved.

In the Serra Branca, for example, the observer at the foot of the cliffs has a restricted view. Ideally the census should be done from the top of the cliffs where there is a better view and, therefore, less chance of errors. The exploration of the region takes time and depends on how long the field group can stay in the area.

Unfortunately there is no infrastructure at Serra Branca to accommodate this group. What is needed is a base camp, i.e house with two bedrooms, sitting room, kitchen and bathroom. Also, since there is no electricity an artesian well and gasoline pump are essential.

Necessary infrastructure, besides the basic infrastructure:

* construction of a base camp at Serra Branca
* installation of an artesian well and gasoline pump


Definition of the area used by
the Lear's Macaw and monitoring
of daily and seasonal movements

The definition of these areas is essential for the planning of preservation. The monitoring of daily movements is most important in establishing the distance, and number of feeding areas in relation to the roosting sites. The monitoring of seasonal movements determines the routes used by the Lear's Macaws in accordance with the time of year.

This is vital in establishing all the areas used by the Lear's Macaws throughout the year, and the existence or not of new populations (for example are birds seen in other areas from known areas or could they be a new population?). This work depends on getting to know the region well, accompanying the birds and the efforts of the field group.

Necessary infrastructure , besides the basic infrastructure:
* construction of a base camp at Serra Branca
* installation of an artesian well and gasoline pump
* four wheel drive vehicle


Full time monitoring of the nests
during the breeding season

This is of fundamental importance. Not only does it confirm the breeding behaviour of these birds, but also indicates how many pairs, in which areas, and at what time of year they are breeding and the success rate. Knowing how many chicks survive from each nest is also essential in determining how many new birds enter the population each year. With this, and knowing how many birds leave the population each year, one can determine if numbers are increasing, decreasing or are stable.

The monitoring of the nests on a full time basis also helps to discourage illegal trapping. This was done at Toca Velha during 1998 and at the beginning of 1999. However, it is essential that this work continues and is also implemented at Serra Branca where there are a larger number of breeding birds.

Necessary infrastructure:

* construction of a base camp at Serra Branca
* installation of an artesian well and gasoline pump
* maintenance of a biologist and assistant so that the work can be done simultaneously at Toca Velha and Serra Branca


Study of the licuri groves
and phenology of this palm tree

This involves the registration of new groves and the monitoring of the densities of palm trees within these groves. The phenology studies include the time of year the plant flowers and bears fruits, productivity and survival rates. These details allows one to know where the licuri groves can be found, how many there are, how many are productive, the causes of death, and other factors which influence the flowering etc. Studying the biology of the licuri palm tree, whose fruit is the basic diet of the Lear's Macaws, and maintaining a permanent group in the field will help to encourage the local population to preserve the licuri groves on their farms.

Necessary infrastructure, besides the basic infrastructure:

* aerial photographs and satellite images to monitor the licuri plantations


Maintenance of the licuri palm tree
pilot project at the Santa Ana Farm

Since the licuri palm tree is the basic food of the Lear's Macaw and knowing that dead plants are not replaced, it is essential that the long term survival of this plant is guaranteed. On the Santa Ana Farm 600 licuri seedlings, donated by Fundação Biobrasil, have been planted (photo 32). However, these seedlings are still very small and depend on irrigation for survival. It is also important to monitor the success rate of this plantation, so that it can be extended to other feeding areas.

Necessary infrastructure:

* construction of a nursery for licuri seedlings
* construction of an artesian well with gasoline pump
* funds for irrigation and maintenance of the seedlings (personnel and power for the pump)


Illegal trapping

One of the most serious problems of not only the Lear's Macaws, but all the blue macaws is illegal trapping. Many birds have already been trapped and sold to exotic bird collectors around the world. This has led to the drastic reduction of numbers, and the extinction of some species in the wild. For example the Spix's Macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii).This is very serious, but like all black markets it is very difficult to control. However, the problem can be reduced by monitoring the breeding areas, involving the local communities with the preservation work, and maintaining a field group in the field.

Necessary infrastructure:

* construction of a base camp at Serra Branca
* installation of an artesian well and gasoline pump
* periodic visits by IBAMA and DDE
* radio communication between Toca Velha, Serra Branca and Canudos to facilitate contact with the police
* maintenance of a biologist and assistant in the field so that the work can be carried out simultaneously at Toca Velha and Serra Branca


The editor is indebted to the following who so readily complied with requests for information:
* Fundação Parque Zoológico de SP
* Fundação Biodiversitas
* Fundação Biobrasil
* Fundação O Boticário
* American Bird Conservation
* Fundação Garcia D'Avila

Special acknowledgements:
* Dr Judith Hart
* Sr. Breno Jr do Carmo,
Santa Ana Farm
* Sr. Otavio Nolasco de Faria,
Serra Branca Farm


* Luiz Francisco Sanfilippo
* Priscilla Prudente do Amaral


* Marcelo Bokermann (Drawing 1)
* Rolf Grantsau (Drawing 2)


* Carlos Yamashita - (Photo 2)
* Yuri Machado de Barros - (Photo 3)
* Luiz Francisco Sanfilippo - (Other photos)

Editor: Ninian Richardson
Technical Revision : Carlos Yamashita

Designer : CP Comunicação

Printers : Takano Editora Gráfica Ltda.

Published in 1999 by:
UVPACK Editora e Acabamentos Gráficos Ltda. Estrada de Vila Jaguara, 126 - V Leopoldina 05089-100 - São Paulo - SP - Brasil
Tel: (55 11) 3641-1055
E-mail: (Website editor: Please remember serious enquiries only from potential major sponsors)

(c) Copyright 1999 UVPack Editora Ltda. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission of the copyright owner.

Editor's Note
The number of blue macaws has declined during this century, due mainly to illegal trapping to supply the exotic bird market and destruction of habitat (deforestation).

The purpose of this publication is to draw attention, specifically, to the plight of the Lear's Macaw. The sincere and effective collaboration of all concerned is essential to guarantee the survival of this magnificent bird.

"For in the end, we conserve only what we love, we love only what we understand and we understand only what we have been taught" (Baba Dioum - African environmentalist).

For more information please contact the editor.


* AB' SABER, A. N. The Morphoclimatic dominios in South America Geomorf. v.52, 1977

* ARAÚJO, J.C.C. & Scherer Neto, P
Preservation and handling program of the Lear's Macaw - first field.
Minas Gerais. Anais

* BONDAR, G: Brazilian palm trees
Bolm. Inst: Centr. Fom. Econ
Bahia, v2, 1938

* BONDAR, G Brazihan palm trees
Bolm: Inst: Bot., S. Paulo, v. 2, 1964

* BRANDT, A. & Machado, R B
Feeding area and behaviour of the
Anodorhynchus leari. Ararajuba
Minas Gerais, v. 1,1990

* COLLAR, N.J, Crosby, M J & Stattersfield, A J.
Birds to watch 2: The world list of threatened birds. 
Cambridge: Birdlife International, 1994.

* JUNIPER, A. T & Yamashita, C. The habitat and status of Spix's Macaw 
Cyanopsitta spixii. Bird Cons. Int., v. 1, n.l, 1991

* MUNN, C. Lear's Macaw: a second population confirmed, PsittaScene. v.7, n. 4, 1995
* PINTO, O. M. de O Sobre a verdadeira pátria de Anodorhynchus leari
Bonap Papéis Dep: Zool. São Paulo
v.9, n. 24, 1950

* SICK, H. , Teixeira, D.M. & Gonzaga, L.P
Our discovery of the land of the Lear's Macaw (Anodorhynchus leari)
Anais da Acad. Bras: Ciênc.,' v.51, n.3, 1979

* SICK, H. , Teixeira, D.M & Gonzaga,L. P 
The Lear's Macaw Anodorhynchus leari Bonaparte,
1856: Revta: Bras. Zool. v.3, n.l, 1987

* SICK H: Ornitologia brasileira:
Revista e ampliada por José Fernando Pacheco. Rio de Janeiro: Editora Nova Fronteira,1997.

* YAMASHITA, C. Field observations and comments on the Indigo Macaw 
Anodorhynchus leari, a highly endangered species from northeastern Brazil.
Wilson Bull., v99, n.2,1987.

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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)