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Disappearing nest egg: Researcher studying declining numbers of macaws

One of the most colorful birds in the world may have a less-than-colorful future. Macaws, the largest members of the parrot family, have seen their numbers decline in recent decades, and that trend is continuing today.

Dr. Don Brightsmith, a bird specialist at Texas A&M University's Schubot Exotic Bird Center, part of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, is studying ways to make sure macaws will not just be photos in a book one day.

Brightsmith says there are 17 species of macaws, and of those, 1 is extinct, another has become extinct in the wild and 7 other species are endangered. "The numbers for all macaw species are shrinking," he says.

There are several reasons for their declining numbers. The birds are highly prized by the pet trade industry, and they are losing their native habitat due to construction and other factors. Also, some South American natives seek them out either for food or to kill them for their bright feathers.

Brightsmith has conducted several detailed studies on the birds, which technically are members of the Psittacidae family that includes parrots, macaws, parakeets and close relatives. He's the first to admit he's a macaw fan.

"They are stunningly beautiful birds and have amazingly bright colors," he says.

"You have to admire them for their beauty, which is almost a curse for them and one reason why they are so highly prized. But surprisingly little is known about them ?their movements, their habits, their reproduction, almost everything about them. We just don't know much about these beautiful birds."

Brightsmith says we do know that macaws are considered highly intelligent creatures. As with many types of parrots, macaws can be taught to speak English words or phrases "or any language, for that matter."

They can live up to 50 years and often outlive their owners. Macaws can also be affectionate birds. "It's believed they are v
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Source:Texas A&M University


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