Blue-headed Macaw Primolius couloni


Justification of Red List Category
This species has a small population. It tolerates habitat conversion, but pressure from the cage-bird trade appears to be increasing in recent years and driving a population decline. The species is therefore listed as Vulnerable, but up-to-date information on the population size and rate of decline is urgently needed.

Population justification
The species is considered not uncommon in some parts within its range, but in other areas it appears to be scarce, or even absent. It has been recorded throughout the year at some sites, but numbers elsewhere seem to vary seasonally and the species may wander in response to food availability, confounding attempts to draw conclusions about population density across its range. Estimating its population size is therefore notoriously difficult, but a review of available records put the population at 9,200-46,000 individuals in 2007 (Tobias and Brightsmith 2007). This estimate should however be updated.

Trend justification
Over the past three generations (15 years; Bird et al. 2020), 4.5% of tree cover has been lost within the range (Global Forest Watch 2021). The species however tolerates habitat conversion or may even benefit from it (Collar et al. 2020); therefore forest loss alone may not be driving a rapid population decline. Until recently, the species used to be rare in captivity and trade (e.g., Herrera and Hennessey 2008; Gastañaga et al. 2011); however it appears that trade is increasing now (Collar et al. 2020). Therefore tentatively, the species is inferred to undergo a continuing decline, but the rate of decline is not known.

Distribution and population

Primolius couloni occurs in eastern and north-eastern Peru, extreme western Brazil, and north-western Bolivia.


The species's life history and ecological requirements are not well known. It is found on the edge of humid lowland evergreen forest, along rivers and by clearings and other breaks in continuous canopy, from lowlands to 1,550 m. It appears to tolerate habitat conversion or even benefit from it: Commonly, the species is seen on farmland, pastures or even on the outskirts of towns (Torres-Sovero et al. 2014; Collar et al. 2020). It is frequently observed in small groups of two to five individuals, using the peripheral sections of clay licks (Torres-Sovero et al. 2014). Young birds have been observed with adults in April. Parts of the population may be nomadic or wander seasonally in response to food availability (Tobias and Brightsmith 2007).


The species is commonly found in markets in Brazil, being valuable and in high demand owing to its perceived rarity. Reported international trade is low (and virtually unknown before 1995), but apparently increasing: three specimens in 1993 increased to 55 birds in 2000, totalling 150 birds for the whole period; as many as 50 were reported to have been seized or traded illegally. The species has a very low reproductive rate and continued illegal harvest is thought likely to pose a serious threat to its survival (IUCN-SSC and TRAFFIC 2002).

Much of the forest within the range is still intact, but deforestation rates appear to be increasing in recent years, amounting to 4.5% over the past 15 years (Global Forest Watch 2021). At least in Bolivia, forest is threatened by expansion of the logging industry, as well as mining and drilling for gas. The species may however tolerate or even benefit from the clearance of forest patches (Collar et al. 2020).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix I. It occurs in several protected areas throughout its range, including Cordillera Azul, Manú, Alto Purús and Bahuaja Sonene National Parks in Peru, Madidí National Park in Bolivia and Serra do Divisor National Park in Brazil (Collar et al. 2020).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Develop an appropriate census methodology and carry out surveys throughout its range to obtain a quantitative population estimate. Research its life history, behaviour, and habitat requirements. Determine threats to the species. Investigate its tolerance of habitat conversion. Quantify the pressure from trapping and trade. Monitor the population trend. Monitor levels of trapping and trade.

Protect suitable habitat within the range. Enforce existing trade bans at the national and international level. Raise awareness among local people of the need to conserve this species and its susceptibility to unsustainable exploitation.


41 cm. Small, colourful macaw. Pale green body with blue edge of wing, primary coverts and flight feathers. Blue head with small grey bare face patch extending from bill around eye. Medium-sized grey bill. Red uppertail, shading to pale blue at tip. Underside of wings and tail dusky yellow. Similar spp. Blue-winged Macaw P. maracana has mostly green head with red front, pale face patch and dark bill. Voice in flight gives a soft rasping purrr or raaah, also a variety of high-pitched srieks and squawks.


Text account compilers
Hermes, C.

Benstead, P., Brightsmith, D., Gilardi, J., Harding, M., Herzog, S.K., Lee, A., Lloyd, H., Mahood, S., Olmos, F., Sharpe, C.J., Symes, A. & Tobias, J.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Primolius couloni. Downloaded from on 30/09/2022. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2022) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 30/09/2022.