Lear's macaw (Anodorhynchus leari)

Also known as: Indigo macaw
Spanish: Guacamayo Cobalto, Guacamayo de Lear
GenusAnodorhynchus (1)
SizeLength: 74 cm (2)

Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1), and listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).

The Lear's macaw is a beautiful large blue parrot with a long tail (4). It was first described in 1858 by Napoleon's nephew, Lucien Bonaparte, from an illustration by the famous British nonsense poet, Edward Lear. This parrot remained elusive in the wild however, and was only accepted as a distinct species in 1978 when naturalist Helmut Sick finally located the wild population (4). The head, neck and underparts of this parrot are greenish-blue, whilst the rest of the body has a violet/indigo appearance (2). Bare skin around the eyes and at the base of the lower bill is pale yellow (2).

Restricted to a small area in northeast Bahia in Brazil. The two known colonies are found in Toca Velha and Serra Branca, south of the Raso da Catarina plateau (5).

Inhabits arid, thorn forests known as 'caatinga' and breeding occurs in sandstone cliffs and outcrops (5).

These noisy, social parrots nest and roost in colonies located in sandstone cliffs or canyons (6). Very little is known about the breeding ecology of the Lear's macaw but breeding occurs from February to April and pairs appear to defend nests within sandstone cliff faces (6). From a small number of observations the average clutch size is two young (5).

Individuals leave the roosting site at dawn to forage in palm groves (6); their diet is principally composed of the hard nuts of the licuri palm, Syagrus coronata (6). Macaws can eat around 350 nuts in one day, using their massive beak to crack open the hard shells (5). They will also forage on crops when these are available (7).

Lear's macaw is thought to be a naturally rare species (4), and population numbers were low when it was discovered in 1978. The major threat to this species comes from the illegal wildlife trade. Collectors will pay high prices for such rare and beautiful birds and a breeding pair is thought to be worth as much as £50,000 on the black market (4). The population of Lear's macaws is also highly influenced by the availability of their principal food source, the licuri palm, numbers of which have recently been vastly reduced due to livestock-grazing (5). A major fire could now wipe the whole palm population out (5), leaving this parrot fatally vulnerable.

Although protected by the Brazilian government and listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) effectively banning international trade in the species, the Lear's macaw remains critically at danger from illegal trade (5). Recent infiltration of poaching rings and guarding of roosting sites may be finally slowing the decline in this species, and there are plans to grow and fence 50,000 licuri palm seedlings (5). A recent population survey has reported an encouraging increase in Lear's macaw numbers in the wild; in the municipalities of Canudos and Jeremoabo the population now stands at around 455 individuals (6). The steady increase in the population has led to the IUCN downgrading the Lear’s macaw from Critically Endangered to Endangered in 2009, although continued conservation measures and repeated monitoring of the population remain high priorities to ensure the continued protection of this species (8).

For more information on Lear's macaw see:

Thank you to Yves de Soye (11/7/02), Director, Loro Parque Fundacion for revising the text.

  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2009)
  2. Erritzoe, J. (1993) The Birds of CITES and How to Identify Them. The Lutterworth Press, Cambridge.
  3. CITES (October, 2002)
  4. RSPB (June, 2002)
  5. BirdLife International. (2000) Threatened Birds of the World. Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, Barcelona and Cambridge.
  6. The Blue Macaws (July, 2003)
  7. de Soye, Y. (2002) Pers. comm.
  8. BirdLife International (May, 2009)