In five previous ShukerNature posts (click here, here, here, here, and here), I have drawn attention to a number of mystifying forms of macaw, all of which may potentially involve either now-vanished or still-undiscovered species. Now, here are two additional cases, plus a personal encounter with a macaw of undetermined identity.
JAN STEEN AND A MYSTERY MACAW
Certain of my previous mystery macaw investigations featured classical works of art depicting specimens that do not correspond to any species currently known to science from the present day. Yet another example of this kind has lately been brought to my attention, courtesy of Brazilian bird artist and crypto-ornithological researcher Rafael Nascimento.
The bird in question is a large red macaw, depicted sitting on a perch in the top-left corner of an oil painting from c.1665 by Dutch artist Jan Steen, entitled 'The Way You Hear It, Is The Way You Sing It'.
Jan Steen's oil painting, 'The Way You Hear It, Is The Way You Sing It' (click picture to enlarge it)
Although several living species of macaw are partly red, none is almost exclusively so, like the specimen in this painting.
Conversely, as I soon realised when viewing it, this bird does closely resemble another red mystery macaw – one which appears on the left-hand-side in Flemish artist Roelandt Savery's celebrated painting from 1626 of Mauritius's famously-demised flightless icon, the dodo Raphus cucullatus.
Roelandt Savery's 1626 dodo painting, featuring the red mystery macaw on the left (click picture to enlarge it)
Both macaws have pale wing plumes but otherwise uniformly red plumage. Yet although no living species of macaw corresponds with such birds, they readily recall an account penned during the 1650s by French missionary Jean-Baptiste Du Tertre of a very large, almost entirely red parrot native to the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe.
Close-up comparison of the red mystery macaw in Jan Steen's painting (on left) and the red mystery macaw in Roelandt Savery's dodo painting (on right)
A century and a half earlier, this still-unidentified but now long-vanished parrot form had also been observed there by Christopher Columbus's landing party, who claimed that it was as big as a chicken (which certain species of macaw are indeed). Could some specimens of Guadeloupe's red parrots have been brought back to Holland by travellers sometime after Columbus's time, upon which the mystery red parrots in the paintings by Savery and Steen were duly based, either independently or with Steen's being inspired by Savery's? Who can say for certain?
Nevertheless, for there now to be two classical works of art depicting what is clearly one and the same variety of mystery red macaw certainly suggests that the transportation of some such parrots into Europe from Guadeloupe might indeed be the case, and also that continued examination of such works may well reveal other cryptozoological surprises. Nor is this the only hitherto-unpublicised mystery macaw to have been brought to my attention lately…
GUYANA'S BLUE MYSTERY MACAW
Just four species of predominantly blue-plumaged macaw are recognised by science. These are: the hyacinthine macaw Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus, Lear's macaw A. leari (endangered in the wild), glaucous macaw A. glaucus (probably extinct), and Spix's macaw Cyanopsitta spixii (extinct in the wild), all of which are only on record from central South America, predominantly Brazil.
Brazilian postage stamp from 1993, depicting the hyacinthine macaw (on left), glaucous macaw (centre), and Lear's macaw (right)
On 28 October 2013, however, I received an email from pets expert/author David Alderton that contained the following very interesting news:
"I was going through some old papers last week, and I came across some notes that I'd made at a CITES meeting…I discussed this with the Guyanese representative - a vet called Mrs Pilgrim, and a parrot enthusiast who lived in Guyana - Louis Martin. They both independently told me of reports of a rare, large blue macaw that inhabited the hinterland forests of Guyana. Louis confirmed that it was not a hyacinthine macaw, but believed it to be a new species. I wondered whether you'd ever come across reports of this type? It was the fact that two experienced parrot observers told me independently that made me think these sightings could be more than just hearsay. According to Louis, it was completely blue, but not as big as a hyacinthine. (It had initially struck me that these reports might possibly refer to blue & gold (Ara ararauna) macaws missing their gold plumage, which is then replaced by white, based on the range of this species. Individuals of this type have been recorded in the wild, and I think there is one in a zoo in France, but this seems unlikely)."
I agree that it is unlikely that a mutant of this nature would be responsible, because it would be blue and white, not completely blue.
Apart from two highly controversial blue-type macaws – the so-called purple macaw and the black macaw – that may (or may not) have once existed on certain Caribbean islands but which are now long-extinct (click here for my ShukerNature article on these two enigmatic forms) – I have not encountered reports of mystery all-blue macaws before.
Spix's macaw, the fourth, and smallest, known species of blue macaw, depicted in a painting from 1878 by Joseph Smit
Consequently, David's disclosure is most interesting, especially as Louis Martin discounted the possibility that the unidentified Guyanan form was a hyacinthine macaw – the only common species of blue macaw in the wild.
If any parrot enthusiasts are reading this, and have any additional information, Id love to hear from you!
A MYSTERY MACAW OF MY OWN
Finally, while on the subject of unidentified macaws, I have a little mystery of my own.
In 2004, while visiting the Mandalay Bay Hotel (since renamed the Delano Las Vegas) on the Strip in Las Vegas, Nevada, I saw and photographed a very beautiful macaw (with its equally glamorous handler!). It reminded me of various hybrid macaws that I had previously seen in photos in books, so I naturally assumed that I'd soon be able to identify it once I was back home (when photographing the macaw with its handler, it never occurred to me to enquire about the identity of her macaw, as my concentration seemed to be a little distracted - can't think why!! lol).
Unidentified hybrid macaw observed by me at the Mandalay Bay Hotel, Las Vegas, in 2004 (© Dr Karl Shuker)
Anyway, when I did eventually get around to investigating this macaw back home, I discovered to my surprise that it corresponded closely to several different hybrid forms - in particular, the harlequin macaw and the Catalina macaw, even though these are derived from different pairs of progenitor species (the harlequin macaw is a blue-and-yellow macaw Ara ararauna x red-and-green macaw aka green-winged macaw Ara chloroptera hybrid, whereas the Catalina macaw is a blue-and-yellow macaw Ara ararauna x scarlet macw Ara macao hybrid).
So now, 10 years later, I still have no conclusive identity for it, and once again therefore would greatly welcome any opinions offered here.
Harlequin macaw (left) and Catalina macaw (right) (© Nancy Forrester's Secret Garden, click here)