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Last wild-born Spix's macaw dies

Rio Movie Cast
Rio Movie Cast
Photo by John Sciulli/Getty Images

The last wild-born Spix's macaw in the world has died. The bird, a male believed to be in his 40s, was named Presley, and had been smuggled from his native Brazil to Europe and eventually to the United States, where he was discovered in Colorado and identified to be a member of the critically endangered species. He had been involved in captive breeding programs but had not yet reproduced when he developed an illness and died of an irregular heartbeat and heart failure on June 25, 2014.

The Spix's macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii) is also called the little blue macaw, a species of parrot native to Brazil. These birds are allover blue, with the brightest plumage on their wings and a paler blue-gray face. The yellow eyes are surrounded by dark skin, and males and females look similar, though females are generally slightly smaller.

Because of these birds' beauty, they were grave victims of the illegal pet bird trade in the 1970s and 1980s. At the same time, they suffered from habitat loss and invasive predators, both of which decimated their already small population. When the drastic loss of population was discovered, seven remaining birds were captured from the wild to begin captive breeding programs, and several other birds that had already been in captivity have gradually been donated to conservation programs. Today, there are believed to be roughly 100 Spix's macaws in the world, and all are in captivity – either in conservation programs, zoos or as pets of private collectors. The species has been extinct in the wild since 2000, and while there is hope that breeding programs can be successful, Spix's macaws are very sensitive to genetic defects from inbreeding with such a small gene pool.

This specific bird – Presley – is believed to be the inspiration for the animated movie Rio (2011), when two "blue macaws" – Blu (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg) and Jewel (voiced by Anne Hathaway) were brought together in a last hope for their critically endangered species. The movie helped raise awareness of tropical bird conservation and how to help protect birds, and it hatched a sequel, Rio 2 (2014), that showed the happy ending of an undiscovered colony of blue macaws. While the birding community may be mourning the loss of one bird that could have helped the Spix's macaw recover, there is always hope that this story may have a similar happy ending somewhere in South America.