History in the Wild
The first recorded discovery of Cyanopsitta spixiitook place in April 1819 by Johann Baptist Ritter von Spix, thus the name Spix’s macaw. It was later confirmed and described by Wagler in 1832. A lot of time passed between those original discoveries, and the so-called “rediscovery” of the species near Curacá in Northern Bahia, Brazil, in the mid 1980’s. With that time also comes a huge lack of information about the species, including its original range in the wild and estimated population. Because of this missing information, much speculation and assumption has taken place among scientists and conservationists of today. Was this species widespread and common? Was it always a rare species? By the time of its original discovery, had the population begun to plummet from outside pressures on the habitat? No one “really” knows; the best that can be done is an educated guess.
What we do know for sure is that by the mid 1980’s, there were three birds remaining in the wild. And we know that less than five years later, there was one single male living in that exact same place. The species was now functionally (virtually) extinct in the wild.
We do not want to play down the importance of the information obtained by Roth in the early 1990’s, where local people provided information leading to an estimate of around 30 pairs at the beginning of the century.
But, we all know that “estimates” by local people are virtually unreliable. Information provided by untrained bird watchers and local uninterested residents should be regarded as “information of interest”, not as scientific data. For example, if you ask the people of Texas today how many Cardinals they have seen since 1950, it is unlikely that anyone could turn these interviews into real data that parallels the actual population. But suffice to say that Spix's macaw was never a common bird, at least not for the past 200 years.
The very last male known to exist in the wild paired off with an llliger's macaw (Propyrrhura maracana) as observed by several people studying the species in the area (Juniper and Yamashita 1990). Field biologist Yara Barros, in her continual study of the bird, also confirmed this observation.
History in Captivity
There were several importers in the United States and Europe that listed Spix's macaws for sale for what, today, would be considered very little money. Interviews with persons that knew these importers and the bird business has yielded that these advertisements were placed to see if orders could be taken, and to see how many people were willing to buy them if they were available. As far as any of the larger importers within the United States knows, no Spix’s were ever legally imported before or after CITES came into play (later we find that at least one and possibly two were imported illegally and held until 2003). Trappers in Brazil had “promised” birds, but never produced them for U.S. importers.
In Denmark, two Spix’s Macaws were offered for sale in the late 1970’s by a major importer called Avifauna. The cost was less than that asked for most other Macaws at the same time. These two birds later ended up with Dr. Hammerli in Switzerland.