The Macaws, spread across three or four genera, are the largest members of the New World parrot family, the Psittacidae. There are at least seventeen Macaw species, but WC has only photographed a few of them. In an egregious instance of the Magpie Principle, here are four of those species.
The etymology of “macaw” is uncertain. The word is the Anglization of the Portuguese word macau, and has been used since at least the 1660s, but the origin of “macau” is disputed. Some authorities trace it to a word from one of the Brazilian indigenous people’s languages, perhaps Tupi macavuana, which may be the name of a type of palm tree whose fruit is eaten by the birds. Other linguists disagree.
The largest Macaw is the Hyacinth, and WC’s personal favorite. The blue and yellow coloration are both electric, unmatched in any other bird species WC has seen.
On the other hand, the Blue and Yellow Macaws are nearly as bright, and have a charming face pattern to add to the the mix. This pair was engaged in courtship behavior, and seemed to be smiling.
One of the more common Macaws in southwestern Brazil, this is a slightly smaller bird. While it is reportedly social outside of breeding season, WC has only seen singles of this species.
WC has written about this charismatic species before. It is noisy, highly social and simply spectacular.
The skulls and bills of Macaws are evolved to crunch hard seeds and fruit cases. But the long tails, spectacular colors and raucous chatter seem to be the product of sexual selection.
All of the Macaw species are threatened by habitat loss and capture for the pet trade. Hyacinth Macaws, for example, suffered the loss of an estimated 10,000 birds in the 1980s alone, and, outside of the Pantanal, are teetering between Vulnerable and Endangered. Even the relatively abundant Red and Green Macaws are facing habitat loss to illegal gold mining in supposedly protected wildlife refuges. The impact of anthropogenic climate change on the Amazon Basin is unknown but an additional potential stress on already struggling already species.
A world without these Macaws would be a pretty sad place.