Do you know all extinct parrots? MACAWS PART I

May 4th, 2015 | by LubosTomiska
Do you know all extinct parrots? MACAWS PART I

Read also the second part of this article:

Do you know all extinct parrots? MACAWS. PART II


According to the latest taxonomic studies order Psittaciformes counts 372 species in 86 genera. Some of them are considered as already extinct. However, to classify a species as extinct in IUCN Red List it’s necessary to wait more 50 years to be sure that there are no individuals left in the wild. That’s why there are some species like the Spix’s Macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii) which is considered as criticially endangered according to IUCN but nobody believes that this parrot might be still found in its natural habitat. In comparison with invertebrates, amphibians, small mammals or Passerines, parrots are mostly colorful and well observed. That’s why it’s unlikely to find species which have been considered as extinct species for decades, today. An exception may be some species of small parrots (Charmosyna, Loriculus, …) in Southeast Asia where it’s difficult to do some fieldwork because of difficult terrain. There is no doubt that the main cause of parrot extinction is the hunt, habitat loss and illegal trade as well.


File:Glaucous Macaw.jpg

Many biologists believe that diversity of macaw species was enormous in the past.



We will start with extinct macaw species. Firstly, I have to mention that following text doesn’t include the Spix’s Macaw as this parrot is extinct in the wild but not captivity. According to some studies, there have been about 60 parrots species on Greater and Lesser Antilles in the past. Evidence for existence of many suggested species is really poor but this region was a place with huge parrot diversity for sure.

Du Tertre (1654) said of West Indian macaws: “It is the finest sight in the world to see ten or twelve Macaws in a very green tree; never are more charming colors displayed.”

So just to summarize this – we know that in Central America we could find enormous parrot species diversity in the past, including macaws. But up to now we don’t have sufficient evidence to determine individual species. All information about fossil macaws we have is based on observation of early travellers and paintings. Today, there are stuffed specimens of just two extinct macaw species – Cuban Macaw (Ara tricolor) and Glaucus Macaw (Anodorhynchus glaucus). However, many other fossil representatives of Ara and Anodorhynchus genus have been sugested so let’s describe them.

1)Glaucous Macaw (Anodorhynchus glaucus)

Described by Vieillot in 1816. This species became rare in the 19th century and most probably extinct in the 20th century. According to BirdLife Int. it was last recorded in 1960s. Some authors still believe that this macaw might persist in its natural habitat as it hasn’t been properly surveyed but the chance is very low. Just like the other representatives of this genus – the Hyacinth Macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus) and the Lear’s Macaw (Anodorhynchus leari), this macaw was also dependent on palm nuts. However, they spent most of time on tall trees and not on the ground as the two mentioned species. The Glaucous Macaw was closely linked to the Yatay palm (Butia yatay) so we can assume that decline of the parrot was somehow connected with intensive felling of this tree. However, suitable habitat still persist in Argentina and southern Brazil.


The Glaucous Macaw (Anodorhynchus glaucus)


Arndt describes the species with following characteristics: „general plumage greenish-blue; head and nape bluish-grey; throat and upper breast grey-brownish; bare area to base of bill pale yellowish; wings slightly brighter blue; underside of tail and wings blackish; powerful bill blackish; periophthalmic ring yellow; iris dark brown; feet dark grey.“ With 72cm it is the smallest species of Anodorhynchus genus.

2)Cuban Macaw (Ara tricolor)

Firstly described by Bechstein in 1811. It was found on Cuba and Isla de Pinos. The last bird was shot in 1864. Today we have about 15 museum specimens which prove the existence of this species.

Levaillant described this species with following characteristics:

„This Aras, which others have held to be only a variety of Macao, is according to Vaillant a distinct species. It is one third smaller than the red-fronted species, or 1 ft. 10 in. long, of which the tail takes 11 inches and the bill 18 lines. The latter is of a black colour and has the upper mandible less curved, and the sides of the lower mandible more swollen than is the case in the other Ara species. The cheeks are naked and white, with three lines of red feathers. Head, front and sides of the neck, breast, belly and thighs red ; back of the neck pale yellow ; back, shoulders and smaller wing coverts brownish red bordered with yellow or green ; flanks yellowish, primaries above dark azure blue, below coppery red. Crissum violet blue, undertail coverts pale blue with green and brown-red borders ; under-wing coverts red, the larger yellow, and brownish green. Two centre tail feathers all red with blue tips, the outer ones blue on outer webs and tips, red on the rest of the feather.”


ara tricolor3

Cuban Macaw (Ara tricolor), the only macaw from Cuba which we can determine according to museum specimens


Read also the second part of this article:

Do you know all extinct parrots? MACAWS. PART II



Rothschild, W. (1907). Extinct birds. Hutchinson & Company.

The Glaucous Macaw – Does it still exist? (with original footnotes) by Tony PITTMAN. Published without footnotes in the Parrot Society Magazine, 1992, Vol. XXVI.

Wetherbee, D. K. (1985). The extinct Cuban and Hispaniolan macaws (Ara, Psittacidae), and description of a new species, Ara cubensis. Carib. J. Sci, 21, 169-175.

Wiley, J. W., & Kirwan, G. M. (2013). The extinct Macaws of the West Indies with a special reference to Cuban Macaw, Ara tricolor. Bull. BOC 2013 133 (2) 125, 156.

Yamashita, C. (2013). Anodorhynchus macaws as followers of extinct megafauna: an hypothesis. Revista Brasileira de Ornitologia-Brazilian Journal of Ornithology, 5(7), 8.


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