|Painting by Jacques Barraband, ca. 1800|
|Former range in Cuba and the Isla de la Juventud|
The Cuban Macaw or Cuban Red Macaw (Ara tricolor) is an extinct species of parrot that was native to Cuba and the Isla de la Juventud, an island off the coast of west Cuba. At about 45–50 centimetres (18–20 in) long, making it one of the smallest members of the Ara genus of macaws. It was the last species of macaw native to the Caribbean islands to go extinct.
Cuban Macaws were mentioned by early explorers of Cuba during the 14–1500s, such as Christopher Columbus and Diego Álvarez Chanca. Its beauty was noted, and it was described and illustrated in several early accounts about the island. The species was scientifically named and described by Johann Matthäus Bechstein in 1811.
19 skins of the Cuban Macaw still exist in various museums, but the provenance of most of them is unknown. No eggs have survived. One specimen that disappeared from the Academty of Sciences in Havana is thought to have been later acquired by Walter Rothschild. The last one being shot in 1864 at La Vega in the vicinity of the Zapata Swamp, which seems to have been the last stronghold of the species. Unconfirmed records suggest that birds persisted there until 1885.
Three subfossil specimens are known; half a carpometacarpus from a possibly Pleistocene spring deposit in Ciego Montero (reported in 1928), a rostrum from a Quaternary cave deposit in Caimito (reported in 1984), and an abraded cranium from Sagua La Grande, deposited in a waterfilled sink-hole possibly during the Quaternary (reported in 2008), associated with various extinct birds and sloths (such as Megalocnus).
Macaws are known to have been transported between the Caribbean islands and from mainland South America both in historic times by Europeans and natives, and prehistoric times by Paleoamericans. Parrots were important in the culture of native Caribbeans, were traded between islands, and were among the gifts offered to Christopher Columbus when he reached the Bahamas in 1492. It is therefore difficult to determine whether the numerous historical records of macaws on these islands mention distinct, endemic species, since they could have been escaped individuals or feral populations of foreign macaws of known species that had been transported there. As many as thirteen extinct macaws have at times been suggested to have lived on the islands until recently. Only two endemic Caribbean macaw species are known from physical remains; the Cuban Macaw is known from nine museum skins and subfossils, and the Saint Croix Macaw (Ara autochthones), is only known from subfossils.
No endemic Caribbean macaws remain today; they were likely driven to extinction by humans in historic and prehistoric times. Several hypothetical extinct macaws were based only on contemporaneous accounts, but these species are considered dubious today. The Jamaican Red Macaw (Ara gossei) was named by Rothschild in 1905, on the basis of an old description, but it is thought the specimen described may have been a Cuban Macaw. It has been rumoured that aviculturalists have bred birds similar in appearance to the Cuban Macaw, though larger in size, like the species they were bred from.
A 1765 painting of a macaw on Jamaica by Lt. L. J. Robins matches a stylised Cuban Macaw, and may show a specimen that had been imported there. It has also been claimed to show the hypothetical Jamaican Red Macaw.
Since no detailed descriptions of extinct macaws other than the ones on Cuba exist, it is impossible to determine their interrelationships.
The Cuban Macaw was about 50 centimetres (20 in) long, a third smaller than its largests relatives, and smaller than all macaws that are larger than the Chestnut-fronted Macaw (Ara severa). The wing was 275–290 mm long, the tail was 215–290 mm, the culmen 42–46 mm, and the tarsus 27–30 mm. The subfossil cranium shows that the length between the naso-frontal hinge and the occipital condyle, the width across the naso-frontal hinge was about 25.0 mm, and the width of the postorbital processes was about 40 mm. The details of the skull were similar to other Ara species.
The Cuban Macaw had a red forehead fading to orange and then to yellow at the nape of the neck. It had white unfeathered areas around the eyes, a dark brown bill paler at the tip, and yellow irises. The face, chin, chest, abdomen and thighs were orange. The legs were brown. The upper back was brownish red with feathers scalloped with green. The rump, undertail feathers, and lower back were blue. The wing feathers were brown, red and purplish blue. The upper surface of the tail was dark red fading to blue at the tip, and the under surface of the tail was brownish red. The sexes were identical in external appearance, as in other macaws.
Behaviour and ecology
The skull roof of the subfossil cranium was flattened, which indicates the Cuban Macaw fed on hard seeds, especially from palms, similar to their large relatives on the mainland, and unlike smaller, mainly frugivorous relatives. In 1876, Juan Gundlach wrote that the Cuban Macaw ate fruits, seeds of the palm Roystonea regia, the tree Melia azedarach, as well as other seeds and shoots. Cuba has many species of palms, and those found in swamps were probably most important to the Cuban Macaw.
In 2005, a new species of chewing louse, Psittacobrosus bechsteini, was described based on a dead female specimen discovered on a museum skin of the Cuban Macaw. It is thought to have been unique to this species, and is therefore an example of coextinction.
Distribution and habitat
The subfossil skull from Sagua La Grande is the north and easternmost known record of the Cuban Macaw. One subfossil rostrum was found in a cave, though such are usually not visited by macaws, but the surrounding region was possibly a swamp.
The Cuban Macaw was reasonably common around 1800 on Cuba.
During the early 19th century, the human population in its home range increased dramatically, leading to widespread deforestation. The bird was also hunted for food although its meat tasted bad, and nests were plundered or disturbed to acquire young birds to keep as pets. Until 1849, the species seems to have been able to hold its own at least in remote areas, but subsequently, the population crashed, never to recover.
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