By David Dennison
Some of our new readers have asked for information on the Hyacinth Macaw. One can understand why, because it’s such a spectacular bird. It is the largest of all living parrots at 100cm. long, but it is not the heaviest, that honour goes to the flightless Kakapo from New Zealand.
Seeing these birds in captivity is really a privilege and an experience. Firstly, they are truly spectacular, with cobalt – almost violet-blue plumage. The naked skin around the eyes and the skin around the lower mandible is, in contrast, bright yellow as can be seen in the photos. The surprise is the noise they make! They must be the world’s noisiest birds, their screeching is truly deafening when one is close to their aviary!
They are found over a large area of central to southern Brazil from just below the Amazon River. They only occur locally on the north bank of the Amazon River. Most of us might expect these birds to be found in the tropical rainforest, but that is not so. They are found in riverine forest that crosses otherwise medium to lightly wooded areas. They seem to be most plentiful in the Pantanal, which is a very large area of seasonally flooded grassland with scattered clumps of Mauritia palm trees. These palm nuts are their favourite food and they also use these palms for nesting.
Before the 1980’s Hyacinth Macaws nested in the stems of Mauritia palms and in cliff faces in equal numbers, according to local observers. However, the pressure of trapping adults and the chopping down of palm trees with nests to get the babies has changed this in large areas. Today most of the successful breeding takes place in nests that are high up cliff faces, out of reach of trappers. There is still a fairly large number of breeding pairs in the Pantenal, which because of the seasonal flooding, has been remote and these pairs will have been nesting in Mauritia palms and hollows in large riverine trees. Unfortunately, settlers are now moving into the Pantenal and this will again put pressure on the Hyacinth population. Hopefully, Brazil and the other Cities countries will be able to keep the illegal trapping and trading in this species to a minimum. Rosemary Low reports that in 1987 it was estimated that there were only 3000 birds in the wild.
Despite their low numbers in the wild, there are a surprising number of pairs in captivity. There are also regular breeding successes reported. However, successful breeding is not a foregone conclusion just because you have a pair together in an aviary. The fact is that the first breeding successes were reported in the last few years of the 1960’s, not much more than forty years ago.
Fertility seems to be a problem with the breeders with whom I have had contact. Some pairs lay every year but some years the eggs are infertile and in other years some of the eggs are fertile and babies are hatched. At this point it would seem that the breeders raising the most chicks are those that remove the eggs from the nest and hatch them in incubators then hand raise the babies. I was privileged to be able to supply the hand rearing formula to the breeders of the first three Hyacinth babies reared in South Africa. Since then we have learned a great deal more about hand rearing macaws and the latest formulations such as Avi-Plus Macaw Handrearing formula is very effective in rearing macaws and reducing the risk of slow crop movement and a stretched crop. We must mention here that although it is difficult for most breeders to get fertile eggs regularly from their Hyacinth pairs, Lourens and Santie Ferreira reared six babies from one pair last year! (See profile in Avizandum November 2009.) It makes one wonder if the other breeders are not trying to treat their Hyacinth pairs like ringnecks and not giving them the attention and extras that such magnificent and valuable birds deserve. I would encourage owners of Hyacinth pairs to talk to each other with open minds to try and improve the national breeding successes.
These are large birds and therefore should be given large aviaries in order to exercise properly. It is true that overseas one hears of breeding success in indoor aviaries of 2,1m high x 4.2m long x 1.5m wide but so far these successes are not consistant. Birds in fit condition will breed in a small aviary, but after breeding they should be placed in a larger aviary for exercise. A German breeder has his Hyacinth pair in an aviary 7m x 7.5m x 3.0m high attached to this is a room for when the weather is bad of 6m x 2.6m x 3.0m high. The door to this room can be closed when the weather is very cold and the temperature maintained at a minimum of 10oC.
Lourens and Santie have their pair in an aviary 10m x 2.4m x 2.4m. Three other successful breeders in South Africa also have large aviaries with lots of flying space. Unfortunately I do not have the exact measurements of their aviaries. Suffice it to say that they are large.
Most breeders feed their birds the basic cooked soft food consisting of mielies, peas, beans, and wheat or barley or oats with a supplement containing proteins vitamins, minerals and trace elements. Some also give their birds an amount of parrot pellets. To this they add sunflower seed and nuts and fruit in the way that they feel will be most beneficial for their birds.
Because there is such a worldwide shortage of these birds, there is considerable pressure to export young birds bred here. Obviously the breeder has the discretion as to where he is going to sell his birds but I hope
for the long term benefit of aviculture
in South Africa that the babies will be sold to other South Africans to strengthen our national genetic pool. In the meanwhile, if you know anyone with Hyacinth Macaws visit them and admire them, they are truly spectacular birds.
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