Native Amazon Indian Use of Birds

Bororo NecklaceMany indigenous Indian tribes in the Amazon use animals for food and raw materials for tools, buildings, clothes and adornments. Indigenous Indian tribes’ religious beliefs are intimately tied to the natural world and they frequently adorn their body with costumes made with feathers or other animal parts. This lets them take on the properties of a particular creature and thereby gain that species’ strengths and insights.

Birds are particularly important to connect the people to the spiritual world. Tribes often raise several kinds of birds, including macaws, curassows and chickens, among others, as a source of feathers for their body costumes.Feathers of Blue Wing Macaw Once plucked, the feathers would regrow quickly, perhaps a week later, and often come in even brighter and bolder than before. Parrot feathers are particularly powerful and sacred, with their colors representing the sun.

The plumes from one bird might go into any one of a number of adornments, each of which might be used in an important cultural ceremony, such as a rite of passage, agricultural ceremony or other special occasion. Many of Brazil’s Amazon Indian tribes used feather ornaments to some degree. When worn, the decorations, such as feathered crowns with feathers spiking up to the sky or arm bands that convert arms into wings, transform the wearer and transport him into the spiritual realm.

Because of their spiritual significance, the decorations reveal a lot about the traditions and beliefs of the people wh o made them. The Rikbatsa wear arm bands and crowns, often with sprigs of red feathers on the top highlighted by black and white feathers behind and on the bottom as well as by bright yellow feathers, at many of their agricultural, naming, marriage and other ceremonies; they tend to be part of the standard regalia. Hixkaryana Hair TubeFor the Hixkaryana people, a tribe of about 500 (related to the Wai-wai) who live in Brazil’s Amazonas State near the Nhamunda river, their decorated hair tubes reflect the men’s belief that their spiritual strength resides in their hair. They pull their long locks back into the feathered cylinders, so that the attached Harpy Eagle feathers dangle down their backs, to enhance their hair’s power and better connect to the spiritual world.

About Scarlet Macaws

Scarlet Macaw SpecimenThe Scarlet Macaw dropped his tail as he came in for a landing.  He flapped his wings to brake and stretched his feet down as he grasped the branch below.  The limb bounced, adjusting itself to accommodate the weight of the bird. The Scarlet Macaw extended his neck and plucked the unripe fruit off the tree. It was early in the season.  But unlike other kinds of birds that had to wait until the fruit ripened, he could dig in while it was still green.  With his strong beak, he hammered at the hard, outer casing. His effort paid off when, minutes later, he cracked an opening in the exterior.  Success!  His tough tongue darted inside. Working his way around the interior, he used the rough muscle to scrape the tart meat off the shell and into his mouth. He chewed. Not the soft sweetness it would’ve been had he waited until it was ripe. But maybe some other animal would’ve gotten it by then.  He pressed the top and bottom of his beak together — almost like a nutcracker — and ground the flesh and seeds between his tongue and palate.

He called to his partner. Scarlet Macaws usually live in pairs, family groups or flocks of up to 30 to get some protection from their main predators, snakes and birds of prey. His mate called back. She was down by the river. The male lifted off to meet her, a shadow in the thick forest. His streamlined shape, from his long, narrow wings to elongated, graduated tail, let him fly the long distances he needed to get to his daily feeding sites.  He landed on the bank and dug his feet into the wet soil. He reached down and bit the mud.  He swallowed and took another bite. The clay would help him digest the tannins and other harsh chemicals in the premature fruit he’d just eaten.

Sketch of Scarlet Macaws


Nature - The Real Macaw - This Bird's Gots Talent - PBS:

Nature - The Real Macaw - Nutcracker - PBS - on Hyacinth Macaw:


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