Two blue macaws from the movie 'Rio 2' touching beaks in the jungle
IMDb | 20th Century Fox

Blue Macaw From 'Rio,' Declared Extinct In The Wild, Makes A Comeback

One of the more heartbreaking moments of the past few years was when we learned that the Spix's macaw, the bright blue bird made popular by the Rio movie franchise, had been declared extinct in the wild.

The good news is that extinctions don't always mean forever. In some cases, it's merely that animals were declared extinct because they hadn't been seen in a long time. In others, dedicated efforts by conservationists have brought species back from the brink.

The Spix's macaw was declared extinct in the wild back in 2018.

Researchers with BirdLife International conducted a statistical analysis that resulted in the Spix's macaw and several other bird species being added to the extinct in the wild list.

The bird, native to South America, hadn't been spotted in the wild in 20 years.

And even then, it was notoriously difficult to spot. "For well over a century we just had this very, very weak information that there was this kind of mythical, rather beautiful blue bird,” BirdLife International's Nigel Collar told Science.

With fewer than three dozen of the birds even existing in captivity, the outlook was about as grim as it gets.

That was a key point of the 'Rio' movies — the character Blu, the last male Spix's macaw, gets paired up with Jewel, the last female of the species.

A pair of blue macaws dancing in the movie 'Rio'
Giphy | 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Unfortunately, the real Spix's macaw didn't get the happy ending that the birds in the movie did.

However, researchers didn't give up hope of saving the species despite the extinction declaration.

Since then, conservationists with The Association for the Conservation of Threatened Parrots, among others, have been trying to save the species.

Breeding the birds in captivity, they built up the bird's population to "180 healthy and strong macaws in Berlin," of which 52 have been transferred to Brazil. And, after a period of quarantine and acclimation to their new surroundings, eight of them were released back into the wild in June 2022.

So, for the first time in at least 20 years, Spix's macaws took flight over Brazil.

And, so far, it looks like things are going well for the birds.

"They're doing absolutely wonderful. So far there is 100 per cent survival. The birds are all staying together as a group... They're staying in around the release area. And they're also beginning to forage on natural occurring foods," Tom White of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service told CBC News.

While it's certainly encouraging, it'll be a struggle for the birds.

The birds' main problem, habitat loss, hasn't gone anywhere. And in the area where the birds have taken up residence, Caatinga, Brazil, they face another hurdle: goats, which will ravage the sensitive forests being replanted there, if left unchecked.

Still, it's encouraging to see these majestic, beautiful birds back where they belong.

Experts remain cautiously optimistic, noting that losses to the birds are expected, and that this re-introduction of birds into the wild doesn't happen very often.

"The Spix’s project is unique in that they are reintroducing a species back into the wild that is currently extinct, has been extinct in the wild for over 2 decades," White told Science. "There’s very few reintroduction programs around the world that have done something like that, none with parrots or macaws."

Conservationists around the globe will be keeping a close watch on the Spix's macaws.

George Amato, a conservation biologist at the American Museum of Natural History, told Science that this project really is the last hope for the species. “I hope it works, because we really have no other alternatives.”

What do you think? Let us know in the comments!

h/t: Science