Scarlet MacawMacaw_Scarlet

Ara Macao

FAMILY: Psittacidae
SPECIES: A. macao
Common Name(s):  Scarlet macaw

The Scarlet macaw is native to humid evergreen forests in the American tropics. Range extends from extreme south - eastern Mexico to Amazonian Peru and Brazil, in lowlands up to 500 m (1,640 ft) (at least formerly) up to 1,000 m (3,281 ft). It has been widely extirpated by habitat destruction and capture for the pet trade. Formerly it ranged north to southern Tamaulipas. It can still be found on the island of Coiba. It is also the Honduran national bird.


Scarlet macaws are large colorful parrots that live in Central and South America.  The plumage is mostly scarlet, but the rump and tail-covert feathers are light blue, the greater upperwing coverts are yellow, the upper sides of the flight feathers of the wings are dark blue as are the ends of the tail feathers, and the undersides of the wing and tail flight feathers are dark red with metallic gold iridescence.  Some individuals may have green on the wings near the yellow band.  Three subspecies present varying widths in their yellow wing band.  There is bare white skin around the eye and from there to the bill.  Tiny white feathers are contained on the face patch.  The upper mandible is mostly pale horn in color and the lower is black.  Sexes are alike, although tail feathers of males may be longer than females. Also, bills of males may be slightly larger.  The only difference between ages is that young birds have dark eyes, and adults have light yellow eyes.

Some scientists think that the scarlet macaws found in Central America, called Ara macao cyanoptera, are a different subspecies from those found in Brazil, called Ara macao macao.  The South American scarlet macaw is a red and yellow bird with white patches on its face and green feathers on its wings.  The Central American scarlet macaw is also red and yellow with white patches on its face, but is larger and has blue on its wings instead of green.


The Scarlet macaw is about 81 to 96cm (32 to 36in) long, of which more than half is the pointed, graduated tail typical of all macaws.  The average weight is about 1kg (2-2.5lbs).


Scarlet macaws originate in the humid lowland subtropical rain forests, open woodlands, river edges, and savannas of Central and South America.  The habitat of the Central American Scarlet macaw runs through the extreme eastern and southern regions of Mexico and Panama, but also through Guatemala and Belize, while the South American population has an extensive range that covers the Amazon basin; extending to Peru east of the Andes, to Bolivia, and Paraguay.  While generally infrequent on the mainland, great colonies of Scarlet macaws can still be found on the islands of Coiba.

Scarlet macaws prefer undisturbed rainforest at higher elevations and riparian (riverine) forests.  They are known to have very large territories.


The Scarlet Macaw is arguably the most magnificent bird of the parrot family.  With their wide strong wings, macaws can reach speeds of 35 miles per hour.  They often fly in pairs or small groups and often call to each other in raucous hoarse voices.

Ara macao individuals gather in flocks to sleep at night, but maintain a monogamous pair bond for life. Macaws are mostly found in pairs either in their nests or flying together. Mates may show affection by licking each other's faces and mutual preening. Once paired with a mate, they are rarely found alone except to feed when one bird must incubate the eggs.

Nests are made in hollowed areas in trees, usually in the upper canopy of rainforests.  There, in the protection of the thick foliage, they are camouflaged so predators are less likely to spot them.  Typical predators of Ara macao are monkeys, toucans, snakes, and other large mammals. If scarlet macaws are in the nest and frightened by something, they will cautiously inspect the scenario until the danger is gone. If the nest is directly threatened, the macaws will quietly escape to safety one at a time.

Scarlet macaws, and parrots in general, frequently use their left foot in handling food and in grasping other things.  The right foot supports their body when they are utilizing the other leg as an appendage to aid the beak.  This left handed condition seems to be based on the same principle as the preferential hand that humans utilize.  This may be due to the development of the macaw's right side of the brain over that of the left side.

Scarlet macaws communicate with a variety of vocalizations and postures.  Mated pairs engage in tactile communication when preening.

Scarlet macaws have excellent vision and hearing.


Scarlet macaws form monogamous pair bonds that last for life.  Macaws nest in holes located high in deciduous trees.

Breeding in Ara macao occurs about every one to two years.  The clutch size is 2 to 4 white, rounded eggs with an incubation period of 24 to 25 days.  Both male and female scarlet macaws care for their young.  Females mainly incubate the eggs.  After hatching, the young may stay with their parents for one to two years.  The male feeds the young by regurgitating and liquefying food.  The parents will not raise another set of eggs until the previous young have become independent.  Scarlet macaws reach sexual maturity at three or four years of age.  They have an extended period of dependence on their parents, with perhaps some significant learning occurring before they become sexually mature and independent.  As a result, the number of macaws increases slowly.


They feed on specific fruits such as polewood, roaming large areas searching for clumps of their favorite foods.  Scarlet macaws primarily eat fruit and nuts, and will occasionally supplement their diet with nectar and flowers. Ara macao individuals are known to consume fruits before they are ripe.  Premature fruits have a tougher skin and pulp that is difficult to access unless the bird has a beak large enough to tear into it.  By accessing these fruits before they are available to other animals, they may gain a competitive advantage. Scarlet macaws are also able to break open the toughest nuts.  Parrots have more movement in their beaks than do other birds, which allows for a more powerful bill. This ability creates an important food resource for the parrots because not a lot of other animals are able to access such a large variety of nuts. There are structures on the inside of their beaks that allow scarlet macaws to press the hard seed between their tongue and palate and grind the seed so that it can be digested.

Scarlet macaws occasionally consume clay found on the banks of rivers. This aids in digestion of the harsh chemicals such as tannins that are ingested when eating premature fruit.


Although in captivity the Scarlet Macaw can live up to 75 years, a more typical lifespan is 30 to 50 years.


The Scarlet macaw was not endangered as of 2008 but is very vulnerable to the pet trade.  Like many rarer parrot species today, they are occasionally smuggled to the United States or Canada where they wind up seized by authorities in Miami, San Juan, Toronto, or New York City (both nations are CITES signatories and thus obligated to take appropriate action).  Unfortunately not all perpetrators are caught and some birds are sold illegally. Many smuggled parrots die from stress on their way to points north.

The habitat of scarlet macaws is threatened due to forest destruction in the deep rainforest habitats where they live.  Further, the spraying of pesticides by companies cultivating and selling bananas for export played a significant role in decreasing Scarlet Macaw populations.  Also, poachers seek out the parrots and will even cut down the tree where the nest is located to access the young or will shoot the adults for food. Cutting down trees to access macaws limits the number of places to nest and this practice will eventually limit the numbers of young raised.

Efforts have been made to slow population declines of scarlet macaws. The World Parrot Trust was formed in 1989 to protect parrots in their natural environment.  Also, there is a trend towards breeders providing feathers from the birds that they sell so that other macaws will not be poached solely for feathers.

The combined factors stressed the population of Scarlet macaws in Costa Rica, where they had previously occupied approximately 42,500 km² of the country's total national territory of 51,100 km², leaving viable populations in the early 1990s isolated to only two regions on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica; the Carara Biological Reserve and Peninsula de Osa.  By 1993 surveys had shown Scarlet macaws occupied only 20% (9,100 km²) of their historic range in Costa Rica.

The habitat of Scarlet Macaws is considered to be the greatest latitudinal range for any bird in the genus Ara, as the estimated maximum territorial range covers 6,700,000 km². Nevertheless, the Scarlet macaw’s habitat is fragmented, and colonies of the bird are mostly confined to tiny populations scattered throughout Central and South America.  The global population size has not been quantified, but it is believed to be large as the species is described as 'common' in at least parts of its range. Global population trends have not been quantified; there is evidence of a population decline, but the species is not believed to approach the thresholds for the population decline criterion of the IUCN Red List (i.e. declining more than 30% in ten years or three generations).  For these reasons, the species is evaluated as Least Concern.

The Scarlet macaw is regionally extinct in El Salvador.


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