The most impressive bird in the Pantanal, Brazil (in my humble opinion) is the Hyacinth macaw. It is the largest of the macaws and is a beautiful blue color with a ring of yellow skin around bright black eyes. The bird can weigh up to 1.5 kilograms and measures up to a meter in height.
On our first morning in the Pantanal, while staying at the Caiman Ecological Refuge lodge, we found not one, not two, but three different Hyacinth nests with adults on the nest or near them. This is quite a feat considering these birds were endangered in the 90s. Because they are not afraid of humans, macaws are easily trapped and sold into captivity. People would pay a pretty penny for these birds in the U.S. and in Europe.
Deforestization also led to this species landing on the endangered list. Hyacinth macaws will only nest in the cavities of manduvi trees. Not all manduvi trees have cavities (they form when a branch falls off from wind, disease, or lightning) so not every manuduvi tree is available for nesting. This became a problem when most of the trees were felled in the macaw’s natural habitat to make more room for cattle.
In the 1980s Brazilian biologist Neiva Mana Ronaldo Guedes decided to do something about the Hyacinth macaws’ decline. Eventually after years of educating others and making sure enough of the birds had habitat, the numbers in the wild went from approximately 2,500 to now approximately 6,500.
Biologists still put wooden nesting boxes in manduvi trees in the Pantanal to encourage nesting when there are no natural cavities.
Hyacinth macaws mate for life and only take another mate if the first one dies. They do not choose a mate until the age of seven, and lay just two eggs per season. This is another contributing factor when it comes to hopes of building the population of the birds: their reproduction process is relatively slow. Add in the fact that macaw eggs and chicks are much sought after prey in the Pantanal, and you can see why researchers and biologists are in the wild even today attempting to protect them.
Hyacinth macaws only eat nuts from Bocaiuva trees and Acuri Palm trees and have a life span of 30 to 40 years. The mating pair shares equal duties when building a nest and caring for young. However, the female will sit on the nest 70% of the time and fly with a bent tail from sitting so long. That’s how researchers can identify the female from the male when they fly.
It was amazing to observe these majestic birds in the wild.