No one has seen the Spix’s macaw in the wild for more than 15 years. Officially listed as critically endangered, fewer than 100 of these bright blue parrots live in captivity.
“The last known individual in the wild disappeared at the end of 2000, and no others may remain, primarily as a result of trapping for trade plus habitat loss,” according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
But something remarkable happened in a small goat-herding Brazilian town earlier this month: a farmer named Nauto Sergio de Oliveira spotted a Spix’s macaw flying freely in Curaçá, according to Brazil’s environmental ministry.
The farmer told his neighbors what he saw. The next day his wife Lourdes Oliveira and her daughter Damilys Oliveira woke up before dawn to see if they could also catch a glimpse of the bird, the ministry said in a release.
And there it was. At about 6:20 a.m., in Barra Grande creek’s riparian forest, the group saw the bird. Damilys Oliveira filmed it on her cellphone, according to Birdlife International.
Lourdes Oliveira contacted biologists with the Conservation of Birds in Brazil (SAVE Brasil). The video and the vocal calls of the bird confirmed the unimaginable: it was a Spix’s macaw.
“The local people were euphoric,” said SAVE Brasil director Pedro Develey, according to Birdlife International. “They set up groups to locate the bird and control any potential dealers from entering.”
He added: “There’s hope again.”
Officials said this particular bird’s origins are unknown, but it may very well have once been captive.
The decline of the Cyanopsitta spixii has been attributed to the long-term destruction of its Brazilian woodland habitat and the illegal live bird trade.
The species received the big screen treatment in the 2011 animated movie “Rio.”
The bird was named after German naturalist Johann Baptist von Spix, who documented the bright blue parrot during his 1819 Brazil expedition.
“Already at that time, the species with the blue color was considered particularly rare and over time only few people were able to observe the bird in the wild,” according to the Association for the Conservation of Threatened Parrots, a German-based nonprofit that is one of a handful of organizations with Spix’s macaw breeding programs.
Very little is known about the bird’s lifecycle. By the middle of the 20th century, the species was thought to be extinct, until 1986 when three birds were seen near Curaça.
“Their offspring were probably captured in the 1980’s and offered for sale in the U.S. and Europe at high prices,” according to ACTP. “It is likely that these birds form the basis of today’s population in captivity.”
Conservationists leading breeding programs hope to reintroduce Spix’s macaws into the wild by 2021.