What to Know About the Hyacinth Macaw

Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on November 28, 2022

The hyacinth macaw is a gorgeous, unmistakable species of macaw that lives mainly in Brazil. The striking deep blue of their feathers and small pops of yellow make it hard to pull your eyes away, especially when they expand their 5-foot wingspan. Unfortunately, hyacinth macaws are a vulnerable species due to the deforestation of their habitat and trapping by the pet trade.

Hyacinth macaws (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus) are a species of stunning blue macaws from South America. Macaws are a group of parrots from the “New World,” or western hemisphere. The hyacinth macaw is the largest species of macaw.

Hyacinth macaws are a distinctive macaw species. Their bodies are a uniform cobalt blue, but they’ve got pops of yellow around their eyes and lower beak, making them almost look like they’re smiling. The feathers under their wings may also be bright yellow or can be brown. They can fly up to 35 miles an hour (56 kilometers per hour).

Hyacinth macaws have short, sturdy legs that allow them to hang upside down and sideways. Their large beaks are hooked, and they sometimes use their beaks like a third foot to help them climb trees.

The diet of the hyacinth macaw consists of some of the hardest nuts in the world. To crack these nuts, hyacinth macaws have incredibly strong beaks that can deliver a bite with more than 300 pounds of pressure per square inch. They mainly prefer nuts from Mucuja palm trees and bocaiúva (macaúba) palm trees, but their beaks are strong enough to crack open Brazil nut pods, coconuts, and macadamia nuts.

Because of their eating habits, hyacinth macaws play a vital role in their ecosystems. Hyacinth macaws crack open these nuts and feast on the kernels inside, allowing the seeds to spread as they fly. Because so few other creatures can open these nuts, these plants rely on hyacinth macaws to spread their seeds to other parts of the forest.

Hyacinth macaw size. Hyacinth macaws aren’t just the largest species of macaw. They’re also the longest parrot, averaging about 3 feet, 3 inches long (1 meter), with a wingspan of up to 5 feet. They can weigh up to 3 pounds, 12 ounces (1.7 kilograms), making them the largest flightless parrot. Only the flightless kakapo from New Zealand weighs more, at 7.7 pounds (3.5 kilograms).

Hyacinth macaw lifespan. In the wild, hyacinth macaws can live for 50 years, sometimes more. 30 to 50 years is a typical lifespan for a hyacinth macaw.

Hyacinth macaws are found in inland South America, primarily Brazil, eastern Bolivia, and northeastern Paraguay. While most species of parrots prefer to live in dense tropical rainforests, hyacinth macaws are most often found in areas that are more lightly forested, like flooded grasslands and palm swamps. The majority of the hyacinth macaw population lives in the Pantanal region of Brazil, which is the world’s largest tropical wetland.

Predators. Adult macaws have no known predators, but animals like coatis and possums, and birds like corvids and toucans, prey on their eggs.

Hyacinth macaws are inquisitive and playful. They’re also excellent at mimicking human vocalizations.

Hyacinth macaws are also vocal with each other and will let out a guttural call when alarmed. They often travel in large groups of anywhere between 10 and 30 individuals. These groups sleep together in trees at night and fly together to find food during the day. 

Hyacinth macaws are monogamous, meaning they’ll stay with one partner for their entire lives. When separated, they’ll keep in contact with each other by calling to one another, even from across the forest.

Every breeding season, the wild hyacinth macaw population forms about 100 breeding pairs. From these 100 pairs, only seven to 25 offspring are produced every year.

Both males and females become sexually mature between six and 10 years of age, and they’ll build their nests in cliff faces or tree cavities. Females lay one to three eggs each breeding season. The eggs take about a month to incubate, and during incubation the female spends 70% of her time in the nest, with food delivered by her partner. 

The new babies are able to fly from the nest at about 13 weeks old, but stay with their parents until they’re at least six months old. They’re considered fully independent at about 18 months.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources Red List of Threatened Species lists the hyacinth macaw as “vulnerable.” Previously, from 2000 to 2013, they were considered endangered. The IUCN Red List estimates that there are about 4,300 adult hyacinth macaws in the wild.

There are a few things that have led to this low population. Deforestation to make way for housing and farms coupled with the lumber trade reduces the area they can call home. But deforestation is only one cause of the dwindling population. Another cause is over-trapping for the pet trade.

Hyacinth macaws are listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an international agreement regarding trade of wild animals and plants. Both the hyacinth macaw and the other macaw in its genus, the Lear macaw, are listed under appendix I of CITES, the most endangered category. The U.S. Wild Bird Act forbids the import of endangered or threatened birds.

Along with CITES, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has the hyacinth macaw listed on its List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife, protecting it under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Today, many programs are working to preserve the habitat and population of the hyacinth macaw.

Hyacinth macaws can no longer be trapped and sold internationally. They also don’t breed well in captivity, despite being away from predators that would eat their eggs. Hyacinth macaw breeders often find themselves dealing with infertile eggs, chicks dying in the shell, and difficult hatches. Young hyacinth macaw chicks are also difficult to raise. Estimates state that 20% of chicks die within 30 days and 27% within 35 days.

As a result, hyacinth macaws are expensive to purchase. While they may be friendly, they don’t do well in captivity and are better left in the wild.

Show Sources

BlueMacaws: “The Hyacinth Macaw.”
CITES: “Appendices.”
Federal Register: “Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Listing the Hyacinth Macaw.”
International Zoo Yearbook: The European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) for the Hyacinth macaw from 1989 to 1998: Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus.”
National Aquarium: “Hyacinth Macaw.”
One Earth: “Hyacinth macaw: the largest parrot in the world.”
Sea World: “Hyacinth Macaw.”
Zoo New England: “HYACINTH MACAW.”

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