The Lear's Macaw is a large parrot at 70–75 cm (27.5–30 in.) long. The body, tail, and wings are dark blue and the head is a slightly paler shade. It has an area of bare pale-yellow skin adjacent to the base of its beak, and orange-yellow eyerings. It has a large blackish beak and dark grey feet. The general appearance of the Lear's Macaw is similar to the larger Hyacinth macaw and the smaller Glaucous Macaw. The Hyacinth Macaw can be distinguished by its darker plumage, lack of greenish tinge, and a differently shaped patch of yellow skin adjacent to the base of the bill, and the Glaucous Macaw is paler and has a more greyish head.
The Lear's Macaw lives in stands of Licuri palm, the nuts of which form a prominent part of its diet. This habitat, while never plentiful, is currently estimated to be around 1.6% of its original cover. The Lear's Macaw also requires a sandstone cliff in which to nest. In order to nest there they apply their saliva to the sandstone which softens it, then excavate small crevasses using their beaks and scrape the dust out of their soon-to-be nests with their feet. They may be found in Rio de Janeiro.
Lear's Macaws adapt to their environment in interesting ways. For example, when a group of macaws are searching for food or a new nesting ground, a small advance party of males will "scout out" the approaching terrain for the safety of the rest of the group. In addition, when danger is found on these hunts for new territory the macaws will let out their signature call which can be heard for miles. The macaw can reach flight speeds of up to 35 miles per hour to escape predators or poachers.
The population of the Lear's Macaw, as of 1994, was 140 birds. As reported by the American Bird Conservancy and Fundação Biodiversitas, the population of the Lear's Macaw rose to 751 birds as of July 2007. It is currently listed as an Endangered species (CITES I). As well as habitat loss the Lear's Macaw has historically suffered from hunting and more recently, trapping for the aviary trade. In addition, the cows that live near its nesting grounds often stand on the roots of young Licuri palms causing a large loss of food for these birds. In fact, though the life span of these palms can be 30–50 years most trees do not make it over 8–10 years causing a critical shortage of food supply for the birds. Various conservation organizations such as Fundação Biodiversitas, SAVE Brasil, Loro Parque Fundación, Parrots International, and the Lymington Foundation, along with local ranchers and other independent organizations are working to help conserve the species. Biodiversitas created the Canudos Biological Station in 1993 to protect the sandstone cliffs used by the macaws to nest.
All present Lear's Macaw conservation projects are managed under the authority of IBAMA. The Committee For The Conservation And Management Of The Lear's Macaw advises IBAMA on the conservation of the Lear's Macaw. Participation in the Committee is by invitation by IBAMA and includes Brazilian and international organizations and individuals.
From the American Bird Conservancy 18 July 2007 Press Release:
The count of the Lear's Macaw population was undertaken by Fundação Biodiversitas staff in June 2007 at the Canudos Biological Station in Brazil, a reserve supported by ABC. A total of 751 individuals were counted as they flew out of the canyons where they roost and nest to their licuri palm feeding areas. The global population in 1987 was just 70 birds, the 2003 census was 455, and until last month’s count, the current population was estimated at 600.
In 2009 the conservation status of the species was downgraded to endangered from critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This was prompted by an increase in the population, which based on annual 2009 counts at the Toca Velha and Serra Branca roosting sites is estimated to be approximately 1000 individuals.
For over a century after it had been described, the whereabouts of the wild population was unknown. It was eventually rediscovered in 1978 by ornithologist Helmut Sick in Bahia in the interior northeast of Brazil. Some thought the bird was a hybrid or variant involving the similar Hyacinth Macaw. However, this idea was soon abandoned, as both plumage, size, and proportions of the Lear's Macaw differ from those of its close relatives. The Lear's Macaw was actually first seen by the public in 1950 in a Brazilian zoo.