Blue Spix's Macaw that Inspired Movie 'Rio' Extinct in the Wild

The bird, made popular by a 2011 animated film 'Rio,' is now extinct in the wild according to bird researchers.
Shelby Rogers


The Spix's macaw's bright blue plumage captured the attention of movie fans in the 2011 animated film Rio. However, scientists have confirmed the parrots behind the movie are now extinct in the wild. 

In the film, a Spix's macaw named Blu travels from Minnesota to Rio de Janerio in the hopes that he'll help rebuild the species. Blu, the last living male of his species, meets Jewel, the last living female. The movie ends with the two birds falling in love, having a baby, and the happy implication that the lovebirds would save the entire species. 

Unfortunately, that did not happen according to a new study from BirdLife International. BirdLife International is a global partnership of conservation groups that help preserve bird species throughout the world. The study lists several species that now qualify as extinct in the wild.

To determine what species have gone extinct, the researchers said they had to consider the reliability of records, the timing of surveys, and the extent and intensity of threats on the species' survival. 

"We applied quantitative methods encompassing all three factors to a suite of 61 potentially or confirmed extinct species of birds," the BirdLife team explained. "We tested six different methods, each with a range of thresholds, for assigning species to IUCN Red List Categories, and compared the results with species' current categories."

Several Spix's macaws exist through breeding programs in various parts of the world. 

The roll of deforestation on the demise of bird species

Five of the eight species mentioned in the study lived in South America. Four of those five species once thrived in Brazil. Researchers with BirdLife said deforestation played a major role in the demise of these bird species. 

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"Ninety percent of bird extinctions in recent centuries have been of species on islands," said Stuart Butchart, BirdLife's chief scientist and the paper's lead author. "However, our results confirm that there is a growing wave of extinctions sweeping across the continents, driven mainly by habitat loss and degradation from unsustainable agriculture and logging."

Deforestation doesn't just affect birds that reside in a particular forest or area. Destroying forests also impacts the migration patterns and habits of other bird species. According to the World Migratory Bird Day foundation, over 180 species fly from North America south during colder months. 

"It is not uncommon for migrating birds to lose 30% of their body weight while making annual migrations and after such long journeys, the loss of their wintering grounds can have a devastating effect," the organization explained. "They rely heavily on the extremely productive and complex rainforest ecosystems for food, rest and recovery." 

Without those systems in place, even migratory birds suffer a risk of shrinking populations or even becoming endangered. 

Other birds now extinct in the wild

The new study reclassifies nine bird species on the IUCN Red List. These birds include the cryptic treehunter, Alagoas foliage-gleaner, poo-uli all getting classified as extinct as well. 

Other causes for the bird species becoming extinct could be traced to alien species moving into an environment, and hunting and trapping practices of these birds. 

While future generations might not be able to enjoy the Spix's macaw in the wild, they'll at least have a valuable lesson in the tale of Blu and Jewel in Rio

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