Spix’s macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii)

Also known as: little blue macaw
Spanish: Guacamayito Azul, Guacamayo de Spix
GenusCyanopsitta (1)
SizeLength: 55 - 57 cm (2)
Top facts

Spix’s macaw is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1), and listed on Appendix I of CITES (3). This species is currently known only from captive populations, with the last known individual in the wild having disappeared at the end of 2000. The species is therefore thought to be extinct in the wild, but it cannot yet be classified as such until all areas of potential habitat have been thoroughly surveyed. If any populations remain, they are likely to be tiny, and for these reasons the species is classified as Critically Endangered (1).

Spix’s macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii) is one of the world’s rarest birds, believed to have become extinct in the wild as of 2000 (4) (5). This elegant parrot has delicate blue-grey plumage, fading from the bright blue tail and wings to an ashy-blue crown (5). There is an area of featherless, dark grey skin around the eyes. Juvenile Spix’s macaws are typically dark blue in colour, but the skin around the eye is pale (2).

Endemic to a small area in the northeastern corner of Brazil, a highly publicised and protected solitary male Spix’s macaw remained in the wild until October 2000, when he disappeared, never to be seen again. As of 2002, there was a captive population of around 60 Spix’s macaws around the globe, mostly in private collections (4); by 2010, this had increased to around 71 individuals, with an estimated total of about 120 including birds not registered in the official captive programme (5).

Spix’s macaw inhabits caraiba (Tabebuia caraiba) gallery woodland along seasonal creeks (6), in the dry scrub zone known as ‘caatinga’ (4).

Information about the natural ecology and behaviour of Spix’s macaw is limited, as research only began when there were merely three birds left in the wild (4). This parrot is relatively long-lived and feeds mainly on Euphoribacae plant species (5). Spix’s macaw breeds during the summer months, and lays up to five eggs in captivity (5).

It is thought that the destruction of caraiba forest and other human activities over the last 500 years are largely responsible for the decline of the Spix’s macaw. More recently, trapping for the illegal bird trade has driven this parrot to extinction in the wild (4) (5).

Until 2001, the Spix’s macaw recovery programme was coordinated and implemented through the Permanent Committee for the Recovery of the Spix’s Macaw (CPRAA), composed of the Brazilian government, scientific advisors and Spix’s macaw holders (4). While the solitary male remained in the wild he was the subject of a number of study programmes, and valuable information on the natural ecology and behaviour of this species was obtained (4). The wild male had mated with a blue-winged macaw (Primoliismaracana) and the pair successfully fostered blue-winged macaw nestlings, which were introduced to them (4). This is an encouraging finding as wild blue-winged macaws could, in theory, be used to foster captive-bred Spix’s macaws in the same way (4). The future of Spix’s macaw depends on the success of the captive-bred population and its possible reintroduction into the wild. There have been recent problems, however, leading the Brazilian government to suspend CPRAA in 2001, due to internal conflicts (7). While the loss of Spix’s macaw in the wild was a devastating blow to the conservation programme, if the different parties can cooperate, there is hope that a wild population of Spix’s macaws can be successfully reintroduced.

An excellent selection of articles on Spix’s macaw is available at:

For more information on Spix’s macaw and its conservation, see:

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

  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2006)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1997) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 4: Sandgrouse to Cuckoos. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. CITES (October, 2002)
  4. De Soye, Y. (2002) Pers. comm.
  5. BirdLife International (December, 2010)
  6. Juniper, A.T. and Yamashita, C. (1991) The habitat and status of Spix's Macaw Cyanopsitta spixii. Bird Conservation International, 1: 1-9. Available at:
  7. Kiessling, W. (2001) The Spix's Macaw Recovery Committee will be restructured. Cyanopsitta, 60: 1. Available at: