The Scarlet Macaw – The Prey?

Scarlet Macaw is named after the place where the bird was found, namely, the Rufiji River in Brazil. The bird itself is small, having a wingspan of only 9.5 inches, and with an unusually large beak. It is easily identified by its bright yellow breast and red cheek patches. It is also the most colorful member of the Macaw genus. This specie has long been the favored ornithic bird of South America and the largest of the Old World voles. In the Amazonian basin, it is the second most common bird in captivity.

A recent study in Southeastern Ornithology revealed that scarlet macaw populations in the vicinity of Manaus, Brazil have declined by as much as 67%. This decline has coincided with a severe decline in hunting, primarily due to loss of their primary food source, the sugar cane. Less sugar cane was being used to satisfy the increased demand for sugar in the wild. Declines in other parts of the Amazonian may also be attributing factors.

Camsoda, a bird which lives throughout most of the Amazon rainforests, has also suffered at the hands of man. A number of camsoda species are hunted for their meat, with the strongest and most attractive specimens being hunted for ornamental purposes. The Acrocanthoid butterfly, a relative of the scarlet macaw, is critically endangered. Camsoda also suffers greatly from unsustainable land grabbing for agricultural purposes. Other than Manaus, the primary prey of camsoda includes feral pigs and capybarons. They also target monkeys, capibarons, and cassabelos.

As if all this weren’t enough, in the last decade or so, a new kind of threat has appeared: the discovery of camsoda eggs. These eggs, called nymphs, are more resistant to drying out than the adult camsoda, leading to an increase in population numbers. These populations, however, have been largely wiped out by a previously unknown predator called the amazon spider. It’s believed that the spider feeds on the nymphs, which are laid near water. This discovery has led to even more speculation on what the reasons behind the decline of the scarlet macaw are.

On the positive side of things, scientists believe that habitat protection programs, like those implemented by Manaus, are helping to conserve the remaining scarlet macaw populations. Still, they recognize that understanding more about the declining populations of both birds and insects in the region is essential. “We need to know what’s going on,” said biologist David Frei of the Center for Bird Research, based in Sweden. “This means understanding how predators are impacting both animals and their habitats.” One of the most pressing questions, he added, is why the scarlet macaw “isn’t anywhere as common as it used to be”.

A number of conservation efforts have been undertaken in the Amazon in recent years to help raise the status of the scarlet macaw, and although the bird is still considered rarer than many other birds, some of the major threats it faces have been addressed. One major effort is a joint reintroduction with the South American giant pouched rat. The two birds are expected to mate and raise a number of young which will eventually take over the extinct population of the scarlet macaw. Until then, we can at least be comforted in the fact that our little red-headed friend is still teething.