Conserving Hyacinth Macaws in Brazil


Have you ever wondered what it might be like to travel to a distant world? Perhaps it would be an exotic place with beautiful animals, strange plants and a night sky full of glittering stars that outline unfamiliar constellations. You would experience an adventure that tested the very core of your identity. This is the voyage that I took. I did not step onto a space shuttle or look up at the sky and say, "Beam me up, Scotty!" I stepped on board a 7 4 7 headed to Brazil.

For many years I had longed to go to Brazil and see hyacinth macaws in the wild. In May of 2005 I was able to realize this dream along with three other members of the Hyacinth Macaw Preservation Society, Ginny August, Chuck Datz and Laura-L<>PSf·· Like most people traveling to a foreign country.' w'e'. i\ \ ·~ were excited and apprehensive. We were wo~ici'} ,: ; about our safety, the food, the local attitudes towards Americans and we wondered if we would really see many birds.

What we discovered was a magnificent country rich in natural beauty and the beauty in the souls of the people who call Brazil home. We were treated \ like family everywhere we went. Although the accommodations in some places were humble, they were always clean and the food was some of the best I have enjoyed anywhere in the world.

In the northern state of Piaui we went to Bio Brasil's Hyacinth Valley and Greenwing Valley, which is in the 1.8 million acre Parnaiba Headwaters National Park. We entered Hyacinth Camp after nightfall traveling on a long and narrow dirt road riddled with deep ruts. As we stepped out of our Jeep we were a few yards from a tall, leggy, creature that looked very much like a large red fox. The maned wolf was nervous, although he showed no real fear of us; we would see him or two other wolves every day we spent in Piaui.

Each morning we awakened to the roar of a generator ian9 ttie flickering of,lights in our small huts. A hearty

breakfast was served-at 5:00 a.m. and then we made our way to the blinds, and the reason for our journey, to see hyacinth macaws. We crouched down in the concrete blind staring out small openings. In the soft grey morning light we readied our cameras, questioning if we would really be fortunate enough to see a hyacinth macaw. We saw puma tracks in the dry river bed at the entrance of the blind. Being the city folk that we are, we did not know if the tracks were fresh. As we contemplated about the puma and life around us, the first hyacinths began landing in the tops of nearby trees. Two birds, three birds, and three more birds, four more birds circled and landed in the tree tops edging their way closer and closer to


us. Soon the first brave individual dropped to the ground and picked up a baseballsize piassava nut. Then a few more birds arrived, and before long the ground was covered with hyacinth macaws. There were many young birds that looked like they were barely fledged. They were playful, hopping, running, jumping, rolling over on the ground and wrestling with each other. Their landing skills were unrefined. Graceful in the air, their big shining blue wings spread out full and regal, yet they would collapse onto their faces with little dignity as they attempted

to land. During this time we were nearly hyperventilating with excitement as we attempted to capture as much as possible onto film. We would easily see 50 hyacinths in a single day.

In addition to the hyacinths we saw blue and golds, greenwings, raptors, cuckoos, flycatchers, woodpeckers, rheas and more species than I can name. I was particularly impressed with the potoo, a large bird that strongly resembled a dead branch and the beautiful blond crested woodpecker. In Greenwing valley, brown capuchin monkeys entertained us as they opened nuts. There were sandstone slabs on the ground that had smooth depressions in them. The monkeys placed piassava nuts on the large slabs. They would locate appropriate rocks that they heaved over their heads and slammed down onto the nuts, cracking them open. It would take three or four poundings before a nut would crack. When we first arrived at Greenwing Valley we watched as the monkeys cautiously crept into the area. They were aware of our presence, yet they were not afraid of us. A young monkey came into the blind and followed me around all morning. He would sweetly coo at me hoping that I would offer him a morsel of food.