Twenty years ago, the future of the Spix’s macaw could not have looked bleaker. The last member of this distinctive parrot species disappeared from the wild, leaving only a few dozen birds in collectors’ cages across the globe. The prospects for Cyanopsitta spixii were grim, to say the least.
But thanks to a remarkable international rescue project, Spix’s macaws – with their grey heads and vivid blue plumage – have made a stunning comeback. A flock now soars freely over its old homeland in Brazil after being released there a month ago. Later this year, conservationists plan to release more birds, and hope the parrots will start breeding in the wild next spring.
“The project is going extremely well,” said biologist Tom White, of the US Fish and Wildlife Service and a technical adviser to the rescue project. “It’s almost a month since we released the birds and all of them have survived. They are acting as a flock; they are staying in the vicinity of their release and they are beginning to sample local vegetation. It’s going as well as it possibly could.”
The future for the species looked dismal until the bird’s fortunes were revived by, of all things, an animated film. Rio, the story of a domesticated male Spix’s macaw called Blu, who is taken to Rio de Janeiro to mate with a free-spirited female, Jewel, was released in 2011. The film, and its sequel, Rio 2, earned almost $1bn. Crucially, the films revealed the threat facing the species to a global audience.