The Spix Macaw (Cyanopsittacus spixi)

by Karl PLATH published in "Aviculture" the journal of the Avicultural Society of America, in April 1931. It includes a coloured plate by Karl Plath of the Spix's Macaw.

This lovely little Macaw, the smallest and perhaps the rarest of the Blue Macaws, is a native of eastern Brazil, chiefly in the Province of Bahia. It was discovered by Dr. J. B. Spix near Joazeiro on the Rio San Francisco, Bahia, during his trip in Brazil1817-20. It was described as a distinct species by Wagler in 1832 and is now the only representative of a distinct genus.

Rare, not only in museums, but also in zoological collections, it is only recently that it has been imported into the United States, during the last few years several have come in but the number is low, possibly less than two dozen. There are no authentic records that show its importation prior to 1927; most of the specimens imported are in the eastern United States and, according to Mr. J.C.Edwards of Los Angeles, Calif., there are but two specimens on the Pacific coast. There are, or were, specimens in the New York Zoological Park, Philadelphia Zoological Garden, the National Zoo at Washington, one in the Zoo here in Chicago, one in my own collection, as well as others privately owned. It was first exhibited in the London Zoological Garden in 1878, that specimen having been acquired from the Jardin d’Acclimation in Paris.     

A dwarf compared to the giant Hyacinthine Macaw, it is but twenty-two inches in total length. It differs noticeably also in the paler and softer shade of blue, which varies from grayish-blue through greenish-blue to a soft shade of cobalt blue, according to the light or the position it assumes. Most of the feathers being edged with light gray, the plumage has a silvery effect which is very pleasing. The cheeks are bare instead of feathered as in the other Blue Macaws and these parts are of a grayish-flesh color, deepening in tint when the bird is excited. The upper parts of the chest is tinged with brownish-gray and the under parts are dullish greenish-blue. Its comparatively small beak, long tail and general elegance of form make it one of the most perfectly proportioned  in this family of usually ungainly birds.

Talking Parrots have been rare in my collection, but “Mac”, our Spix Macaw, is easily the peer of them all. While not as proficient as a good talking Amazon, he has quite a repertoire of short sentences and when any attention is paid to him, particularly by a stranger who takes his fancy, the conversation carried on gives an impression of a very intelligent and educated bird. All people do not make good impressions evidently for unless he senses an sympathetic nature he sits solemn and dumb on his perch. His period of greatest loquacity is in the morning before breakfast when we can hear him chattering “Mac wants his breakfast”; “Mac wants some water” – or apple- or bread- or  “Mac wants a drink”; usually in rapid succession and quite distinctly, in a feminine voice. When we come down he says “Good-morning” quite briskly.

He is apt to disconcert a stranger by suddenly asking “Want a bath?”. We have taught him “Way down the Suwanee Riverfar, far away” which he sings in a funny quaver, gulping and swallowing a word occasionally and, I am sorry to say, missing the tune completely. He is quite lovable and tame, rarely nips and though he does squawk sometimes, this does not compare in volume to the harsh, strident  screech of the larger Macaws or Cockatoos. Sometimes after indulging in his wild gyrations on his perch he will become quite noisy for a spell, then suddenly say “What’s the matter, huh?” and if reproved for anything says quietly “Mac’s a bad boy.” He is always ready to have his head rubbed, purring the while, and is quite amusing when he whispers the sentences he knows.

I should like to make a suggestion to the readers who keep their Macaws or Cockatoos on stands which I think will be of benefit to their pets. It is this: fasten a fair sized branch to extend up above the perch. The fun and exercise the bird gets in climbing up and down is surely good for it and helps to keep it contented. My bird is not fastened in any way to his stand and very rarely gets off, usually only when frightened by an unusual sound. The branch that I have fastened on “Mac’s” stand is “Y” shaped and extends about 18 inches high. From one end of it dangles a chain which holds a small bell from which he derives much enjoyment and so do the onlookers. His monkey-like antics are most amusing.

An improvement made to the tray dispenses with much of the care necessary to keep the surroundings tidy. This is a rim about 2 inches deep which any hardware man can fasten on the tray. It prevents the sand and seed from being swept over the edge and if the seed cup is fastened near the tray the habit of the bird to take a “handful” of seed, eating one and dropping the rest, is not apt to add to the mussiness of keeping a bird on a stand. Later on he will come down and clean up. For food my Spix Macaw prefers sunflower seed, but each morning he gets in addition the core of an apple and a piece of dry bread or cracker which invariably he dips in his water before eating. He enjoys a bath in the warm summer rain, drooping his wings and fluffing out, but during the winter he tolerates a bath in the tub with about two inches of water and is gently sprayed with a small sprinkler. At this time his feathers are held tight and close to his body.

This species of Macaw is peculiar in having the habit of erecting the feathers of the crown and nape, which are somewhat elongated and give a puffy appearance to the head.

I am indebted to Mr. Lee. S. Crandall, Dr. T. S. Palmer and Mr. J.C. Edwards, who contributed to my research work on this bird. To the best of my knowledge this is the first time this species has been illustrated in color, if at all. In reproducing my painting there is a slight fault in showing a definite distinction between the shades of blue on the wing – a fault in plate-making. The color should shade gradually from the bend of the wing to the deeper blue of the quills.

The Spix Macaw probably always will be an expensive bird for though the process of all the Blue Macaws have come down considerably they are still far above the prices of the commoner varieties. 



(Note by website editor: In fact the original description by Spix published in 1824-5 was accompanied by an illustration and there was also an illustration of the macaw purchased by the London Zoo in 1878 in the Proceedings for that year as well as a Spix's Macaw depicted with a another blue macaw, described as a Glaucous Macaw, at a German dealer's premises in the 1890s. However the Plath illustration is more recognisably a Spix's MacawSadly, according to Horst Schmidt in his Book "Die Aras" published in 1986, Mac was placed with two Amazon parrots in flight in a zoo in 1946 and was killed by them.)

Latest News

  • Tuesday 9th July 2024

    There is a short interesting article in the July 2024 issue of the German magazine "Papageien" about the setting up of a nature conservation centre for Spix’s Macaws  in the São Paulo zoo. Under the guidance of biologist Fernanda ... 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)