Blue-headed macaw (Primolius couloni)

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Blue-headed macaw
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Blue-headed macaw fact file

Blue-headed macaw description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderPsittaciformes
FamilyPsittacidae
GenusPrimolius (1)

Sadly, the rare and beautiful blue-headed macaw (Primolius couloni), with its striking vivid blue-green plumage, is now seldom seen in the wild (4). As its common name implies, the head is blue and stands out against the primarily green plumage of the body, with the subtle dark-blue tones of the forehead, crown and cheeks blending into a more brilliant iridescent turquoise-blue around the neck (5). Whilst upper parts are largely green, some wing feathers are a vivid blue, and the edge of the wing is aqua-marine (2) (6). By contrast, the upperparts of the tail are a rich maroon colour, while the underparts of both the tail and wings are yellowish-green (2) (5). The bill is black, ivory coloured at the tip, and the legs and feet are pink (6).

Synonyms
Ara couloni, Propyrrhura couloni.
Size
Length: 41 cm (2)
Weight
207 – 294 g (2)
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Blue-headed macaw biology

Very little is known about the biology of the blue-headed macaw. The species is mostly seen in pairs or threes outside of the breeding season (6), which is thought to extend from October to April (8). Females lay around four eggs and incubate them for about a month, with the chicks fledging approximately three months after hatching (8).

This species’ diet in the wild is unknown, but it has been observed practicing the curious behaviour of geophagy (the intentional consumption of soil) at ‘clay licks’. Whilst well documented in mammals, geophagy by birds is largely unheard of. It has been speculated that the soil of these clay licks may provide an important source of sodium and protection against toxins naturally found in the diet (9).

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Blue-headed macaw range

The blue-headed macaw occurs in eastern Peru, extreme western Brazil, and north-western Bolivia (2) (7).

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Blue-headed macaw habitat

The striking blue-headed macaw is found on the edge of humid lowland evergreen forest, from lowlands up to 1,550 metres (2) (7). Tall trees beside rivers are seemingly preferred, as well as other clearings or breaks in continuous canopy, and even the outskirts of towns may be utilised (2) (7).

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Blue-headed macaw status

The blue-headed macaw is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable

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Blue-headed macaw threats

Exploitation of the blue-headed macaw for the caged-bird trade is a major threat to this species (1). Before 1995, international trade was virtually unknown, but recent years have seen a dramatic increase in legal and illegal trade in this species, both in national and international markets (4). Sadly, the bird’s rarity only increases its demand and market value, with collectors paying as much as US$ 12,500 in some European countries, providing a strong financial incentive to poach for international markets. This species’ low reproductive rate means that continued harvest is likely to seriously jeopardise its survival. Habitat loss is not currently a significant threat. Although the Bolivian forest is threatened by an expanding logging industry, much of the forest within this species’ range is still intact (7). Additionally, this bird appears to thrive in patchwork clearances within forests, so selective forest clearance may actually benefit the species (2) (7).

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Blue-headed macaw conservation

In 2003, the blue-headed macaw was upgraded to Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), effectively prohibiting all international trade (7). This bird is found in the Tambopata National Reserve, Bahuaja Sonene National Park and Manu National Park in Peru, where it receives some degree of protection (2) (9). Ultimately, however, legislation preventing international trade needs to be more effectively enforced if this macaw is to have any chance of long term survival, and local people need to be made fully aware of the susceptibility of this species to unsustainable exploitation and the desperate need to conserve it (7). If left unchecked, the strong economic incentive to illegally collect and trade this rare, vivid-coloured bird on international markets could quickly drive the beautiful blue-headed macaw to extinction (4).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Find out more

For more information on the blue-headed macaw and its conservation:

For more information on the blue-headed macaw and other bird species please:

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Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

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Glossary

Incubate
To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2011)
    http://www.redlist.org
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sagatal, J. (1997) Handbook of the birds of the world. Vol. 4 - Sandgrouse To Cuckoos. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. CITES (May, 2006)
    http://www.cites.org
  4. Defenders of Wildlife (August, 2006)
    http://www.defenders.org/cites/bluehead.pdf
  5. Those Majestic Macaws (August, 2006)
    http://www.exoticbird.com/online_parrots/ara_couloni.html
  6. Lexicon of Parrots (August, 2006)
    http://www.arndt-verlag.com/projekt/birds_3.cgi?Desc=E218.htm&Pic=218_1.JPG
  7. BirdLife International (August, 2006)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=1556&m=0
  8. CentralPets (August, 2006)
    http://www.centralpets.com/animals/birds/parrots/prt5747.html
  9. Blue-headed Macaw Monitoring Manifesto: A Tambopata Macaw Project (August, 2006)
    http://www.geocities.com/macawmonitoring/
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Blue-headed macaw  
Blue-headed macaw

© Pete Oxford / naturepl.com

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