BIRD OF THE WEEK: 3/6/2015 SCIENTIFIC NAME: Anodorhynchus leari
POPULATION: 1,300 adults
IUCN STATUS: Endangered
TREND: Increasing
HABITAT: Arid caatinga (scrub forest) with sandstone canyons and stands of licuri palms

Lear's Macaw map, NatureServeA flock of Lear's Macaws makes a colorful, noisy splash of blue against the red of the sandstone canyons in Brazil where they roost and nest. This species was named in honor of the British poet, author, and artist, Edward Lear, who was fond of parrots.

Like Great Green, Military, and Blue-throated Macaws, these beautiful parrots are popular cage birds that are highly sought by illegal poachers. An ABC-supported reserve — Canudos Biological Station — now provides a safe haven for Lear's Macaw, and the species' numbers have increased from a few dozen in the late 1980s to about 1,300 today.

Otherwise Known as Indigo Macaw

The Lear's Macaw (also known as the Indigo Macaw) was known to science for 150 years from trade birds before ornithologist Helmut Sick discovered a breeding site in 1978. Habitat loss, hunting, and trapping for the pet trade reduced their numbers quickly, and by the late 1980s there were only 70 known birds left in the wild.

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Another threat stemmed from scarcity of the licurí palm, the bird's main food source. The plant is overused as cattle fodder and subject to burning for pasture and overgrazing of its seedlings by goats.

Lear's Macaw, João-Quental

Lear's Macaw by João-Quental

Comeback at Canudos

Lear's Macaw is known from two sites, with 80 percent of the world's population found at Canudos Biological Station and a smaller group about 50 miles away. Because of its extremely limited population, the Lear's Macaw is an Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) listed species.

ABC and our partner Fundação Biodiversitas have played a major role in the Lear's Macaw's comeback. In 2007, the Canudos Biological Station managed by Biodiversitas was expanded to 3,649 acres; two field stations and a lodge have helped to keep poachers out.

By 2009, the Lear's Macaw was downgraded on the IUCN Red List from Critically Endangered to Endangered, a sure sign that these parrots are beginning to bounce back.

Birders and other tourists can experience this success story for themselves by visiting Canudos. ABC's Dave Younkman explains how in his story, “How to See a Lear's Macaw,” on our blog.

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