Native to the semi-open wooded habitats, grasslands, and tropical wetlands in central and eastern South America, the Hyacinth Macaw is now thriving in Brazil’s Pantanal, a natural region in central Brazil that encompasses the world’s largest tropical wetland area.
The Hyacinth Macaw is the largest bird in the macaw family, and in fact, the largest of the flying parrot species. They feature a massive black bill, a lower mandible outlined in bright yellow, a violet-blue plumage with black on the underside of its tail and wings. It is the Pantanal’s iconic bird.
Historically, the Hyacinth Macaw thrived in Brazil’s Pantanal, but by the 1980s their population had declined to only about 1,500 birds due to habitat loss as well as the trapping of wild birds for the pet trade.
The restoration of the Hyacinth Macaw population in the Pantanal is a notable Brazilian environmental success story, as today there are more than 5,000 individuals here. A truly exciting recovery story for one of the world’s most spectacular birds.
The Hyacinth Macaw Project, which began in the 1990s, has helped to more than triple the species’ local population in fifteen years. Among the numerous strategies employed to facilitate the rebound by fighting back against habitat loss by creating a co-existence of cattle and the Macaw, as well as increased legal protections.
Cattle Ranchers Role
There are two major problems for the Macaw that came with the encroachment of cattle ranches in the region. The loss of their food sources, as well as the trees in which they nest. Through the work of the Hyacinth Macaw Project, ranchers in the region have begun to take measures that help with the restoration of both, which in turn has led to the restoration of the Macaw.
In the Pantanal, the Hyacinth Macaw eats the hard seeds within the fruits of acuri and bocaiúva palms. Flocks feed in the palm trees but they also forage on the ground for seeds, some of which have passed through cattle stomachs. Cows become a problem when they eat or trample the young bocaiúva palms and manduvi seedlings which provide food for the Macaw. Willing cattle ranchers have helped to increase local populations of this iconic bird by planting seedlings within fenced enclosures to prevent cows from damaging them, as well as helping to protect the manduvis trees, which are the preferred nesting site for the birds. These trees in this region are mostly over 80 years old and are quite vulnerable to big winds. The planting of smaller trees around these manduvis helps to create some protection for these trees.
The bird is also now protected by law in Brazil, where international trade is illegal. These actions, among others, have led to an exciting rebound in numbers of the Hyacinth Macaw, a beautiful bird that is always exciting to find and photograph!
Join Backcountry Journeys on our Jaguar’s of Brazil’s Pantanal wildlife photography tour to witness for yourself the natural spectacle of not only the Hyacinth Macaw but also of the Pantanal region of Brazil. And, oh, did we mention there will be jaguars???
Kenton Krueger has spent the past several years guiding backpackers, hikers and photographers into the wild places of the American West such as Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier, Katmai, Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, as well as internationally in Costa Rica. In addition to backpacking and camping, his adventures include rock climbing, exploring the slot canyons of southern Utah, mountain biking, and bagging 14ers in Colorado’s San Juan Mountain Mountain Range. Kenton is a trail runner, former pilot, and newspaper writer and photographer. Kenton looks forward to utilizing his years of guiding experience, combined with his passion and experience behind the lens to provide memorable and unforgettable experiences at the wild places we will visit together.