The bird show at the Minnesota Zoo is always a kid pleaser (for adults too, for that matter), with some very showy birds trained to fly very close to the audience’s heads. Watching the birds perform is educational for those who know little about the unique abilities of our feathered friends, but there is often a deeper story attached to some of the individuals — as was the case for the Blue-throated Macaw that made a dramatic entrance to the stage from a hidden crevice.
Like the much larger Hyacinth Macaw, the largest parrot in the world, these macaws have very long tail feathers, which makes their total body length from top of the head to tip of their tail a little over 3 feet.
You might expect that exotic tail feathers like these would get noticed, even coveted, for some special ceremonial practices among indigenous people. And that in fact, is one of the reasons that these very large parrots have become so rare in the wild, as they were once killed to make the fancy headdresses used in rituals and festive gatherings. One headdress made from 30 of the longest tail feathers of the macaws (usually only the two central tail feathers are used) would require killing 15 macaws.
Like a variety of other tropical species, Blue-throated Macaw populations have suffered drastically from habitat loss, especially of their favorite nesting trees as well as the fruit and nuts they depended on for food, and from collection of young birds for the pet trade. In fact, there are many more of these birds in captivity today than are living in the wild in remote locations in Bolivia where they are critically endangered.
However, trapping of Blue-throated Macaws has been illegal since 1986, and recent efforts to provide additional nest sites with artificial boxes has helped the small population of a hundred or so birds to recover slightly. The most important conservation measure may be the promotion of the use of life-like, artificial feathers in the construction of native headdresses. Not only does this save the birds, but it has become a great attraction for tourists, who want an authentic headdress to take home with them.