Martinique Macaw (A Hypothetical Extinct Caribbean Macaw)

Last Updated on March 8, 2023 by Ali Shahid

There’s a hypothetical extinct macaw species known as the Martinique macaw or orange-bellied macaw (Ara martinicus) from the Caribbean island of Martinique.

Rothschild named it in 1905, based on Jacques Bouton’s description of “blue and orange-yellow” macaws from the 1630s. It may have been identified in contemporary artwork, but no other evidence of its existence is known.

It has been suggested by some authors that these birds were actually blue-and-yellow macaws (Ara ararauna). Interestingly, Rothschild described a similar bird on the basis of a 1658 account, the red-tailed blue-and-yellow macaw (Ara erythrura).

The Martinique macaw is one of thirteen extinct macaws that once lived on the Caribbean islands. The existence of endemic macaws on these islands is now questioned since only three specimens have been found on the islands.

There was a frequent transport of macaws between the Caribbean islands and the South American mainland in the past, both prehistorically and historically. Therefore, current reports do not indicate whether they relate to imported or native species.

Martinique Macaw

Origin and History of Martinique Macaw

Walter Rothschild published the Martinique macaw’s scientific description in 1905, as a new species of Anodorhynchus A. martinicus.

In 1630, the French priest Jacques Bouton described blue and orange-yellow macaws from the island of Martinique in the Lesser Antillean region. This taxon was based solely on Bouton’s account.

With the help of Dutch artist John Gerrard Keulemans, Rothschild reclassified the bird as Ara martinicus in his 1907 book, Extinct Birds.

In 2001 American ornithologists Matthew Williams and David Steadman believed the two names referred to separate species due to the reassignment.

The description of the Martinican amazon, also found on the same island, was also based solely on historical accounts.

Although various theories have been proposed to explain what Bouton described, the mystery is likely to persist. In 1906, Tommaso Salvadori noticed the Martinique macaw looked like the blue-and-yellow macaw (Ara ararauna) on South America’s mainland.

In the opinion of the American ornithologist James Greenway, Bouton may have used a captive specimen for his description. There is an unknown origin for the blue and yellow macaw shown in Edwards’ Dodo, a 1626 painting by the Dutch artist Roelant Savery. 

One of the macaws in the painting is also extinct, the Lesser Antillean macaw (Ara guadeloupensis). Similarly, Eleazar Albin’s mid-17th century illustration shows a blue and yellow macaw, as does another Savery painting.

A stuffed Martinique macaw specimen collected in 1845 was claimed to have been discovered by Cuban scientist Mario Sánchez Roig in 1936. In the same year, a burrowing parakeet and a dove tail were combined to demonstrate that it was a hoax.

In fact, the British ornithologists Julian P. Hume and Michael Walters believe that Ara erythrura might have been an identical species to the Martinique macaw if it ever existed.

Other species of blue and yellow macaws have also been reported from Jamaica, including the great macaw.

It is not listed in the Birdlife International database as a separate species, however, it is mentioned in the entry for the Lesser Antillean macaw (which is not recognized as a separate species) as possibly being a close relative

Other Extinct Caribbean Macaw Species

The islands may have once been home to as many as 13 extinct macaw species. Physical remains have identified three species of endemic Caribbean macaws:

  • 19 museum skins and subfossils of the Cuban macaw (Ara tricolor), 
  • Subfossils of the Saint Croix macaw (Ara autochthones), 
  • Reports on Lesser Antillean Macaws (Ara autochtones)

In historic and prehistoric times, humans drove endemic Caribbean macaws to extinction.

Today, many hypothetical extinct macaw species are considered dubious, based only on contemporary accounts. Rothschild, who named species based on little tangible evidence, named several of them in the early 20th century.

Jamaican red macaws (Ara gossei) and red-headed macaws (Ara erythrocephala) were named after macaws from Jamaica. A green-and-yellow macaw (Ara Atwood) is believed to be native to Dominica. A blue parrot supposedly from Guadeloupe was named for the violet macaw (Anodorhynchus purpurascens), now thought to be an Amazon violacea from Guadeloupe.

It has been reported that there are other species of macaw, but many of these have not received binomial designations, making them junior synonyms.

In 2008, an ornithology team rejected the idea that all Antillean islands possess endemic species. Hispaniola has a large land area, yet no macaw species exists. Some people believe it would have existed.

According to them, such a species may have disappeared before the arrival of the Europeans. Palaeontological discoveries and examination of contemporary reports and artwork will ultimately reveal the identity of indigenous macaws in the Caribbean.

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