The Lear's Macaw (Anodorhynchus leari), also known as the Indigo Macaw, is a rare Brazilian parrot with a highly restricted range. It is metallic blue with a faint, often barely visible, tinge of green, and a yellow patch of skin at the base of the heavy, black bill. It weighs around 950 g (2 pounds) and is 75 cm (30 inches) long. It was named after the poet Edward Lear, who published many drawings and paintings of parrots. Although Lear never visited Brazil (or anywhere else in South America), several of his "Illustrations of the Family of the Psittacidæ, or Parrots" strongly resemble this species, unrecognized until later, believing it to be a Hyacinth Macaw "? a species which is larger, darker, and has a differently shaped patch of yellow skin at the base of the bill.
For over a century after it had been described, the whereabouts of the wild population was unknown. It was eventually rediscovered in 1978 by ornithologist Helmut Sick in Bahia in the interior northeast of Brazil. Some thought the bird was a hybrid or variant involving the similar Hyacinth Macaw. However, this idea was soon abandoned, as both plumage, size, and proportions of the Lear's Macaw differ from those of its close relatives. The Lear's Macaw was actually first seen by the public in 1950 in a Brazilian zoo.
The general appearance of the Lear's macaw is similar to the Hyacinth macaw but it is smaller and the plumage a duller blue color. It is 70-75 cm (27.5-30 in.) long. The body, tail and wings are dark blue with the head a slightly paler shade. It has a strip of bare pale yellow skin at the base of its beak and orange-yellow eyerings. It has a large blackish beak and dark grey feet.
The Lear's Macaw lives in stands of Licuri palm, the nuts of which form a prominent part of its diet. This habitat, while never plentiful, is currently estimated to be around 1.6% of its original cover. The Lear's Macaw also requires a sandstone cliff in which to nest. In order to nest there they apply their saliva to the sandstone which softens it, then excavate small crevasses using their beaks and scrape the dust out of their soon-to-be nests with their feet.
The population of the Lear's Macaw, as of 1994, was 140 birds. As reported by the American Bird Conservancy and Fundação Biodiversitas, the population of the Lear's Macaw rose to 751 birds as of July 2007. It is currently listed as Critically Endangered (CITES I). As well as habitat loss the Lear's Macaw has historically suffered from hunting and more recently, trapping for the aviary trade. In addition, the cows that live near its nesting grounds often stand on the roots of young Licuri palms causing a large loss of food for these birds. In fact, though the life span of these palms can be 30-50 years most trees do not make it over 8-10 years causing a critical shortage of food supply for the birds. Various conservation organizations such as Fundação Biodiversitas, BioBrazil, Parrots International, and the Lymington Foundation, along with local ranchers and other independent organizations are working to help conserve the species. Biodiversitas created the Canudos Biological Station in 1993 to protect the sandstone cliffs used by the macaws to nest.
All present Lear's Macaw conservation projects are managed under the authority of IBAMA. The Committee For The Conservation And Management Of The Lear's Macaw advises IBAMA on the conservation of the Lear's Macaw. Participation in the Committee is by invitation by IBAMA and includes Brazilian and international organizations and individuals.
From the American Bird Conservancy 18 July 2007 Press Release:
The count of the Lear's Macaw population was undertaken by Fundação Biodiversitas staff in June 2007 at the Canudos Biological Station in Brazil, a reserve supported by ABC. A total of 751 individuals were counted as they flew out of the canyons where they roost and nest to their licuri palm feeding areas. The global population in 1987 was just 70 birds, the 2003 census was 455, and until last month's count, the current population was estimated at 600.
Lear's Macaws adapt to their environment in interesting ways. For example, when a group of macaws are searching for food or a new nesting ground, a small advance party of males will "scout out" the approaching terrain for the safety of the rest of the group. In addition, when danger is found on these hunts for new territory the macaws will let out their signature call which can be heard for miles. The macaw can reach flight speeds of up to 35 miles per hour to escape predators or poachers.
The Lear's Macaw's rate of reproduction is 1-2 eggs per year during their mating season from December to May. However, not all pairs of birds mate often or at all. Lear's Macaws reach sexual maturity at around 2-4 years of age, but its life span can be anywhere from 30-50 years or more.