Scarlet macaw

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Scarlet macaw
Scarlet Macaw
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Psittaciformes
Family: Psittacidae
Genus: Ara
A. macao
Binomial name
Ara macao
Distribution Ara macao.svg
  Extant distribution of the scarlet macaw

Psittacus macaoLinnaeus, 1758

The scarlet macaw (Ara macao) is a large red, yellow, and blue Central and South American parrot, a member of a large group of Neotropical parrots called macaws. It is native to humid evergreen forests of tropical Central and South America. Range extends from south-eastern Mexico to the Peruvian Amazon, Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia, Venezuela and Brazil in lowlands of 500 m (1,640 ft) (at least formerly) up to 1,000 m (3,281 ft). In some areas, it has suffered local extinction because of habitat destruction or capture for the parrot trade, but in other areas it remains fairly common. Formerly it ranged north to southern Tamaulipas. It can still be found on the island of Coiba. It is the national bird of Honduras. Like its relative the blue-and-yellow macaw, scarlet macaws are popular birds in aviculture as a result of their striking plumage.



The scarlet macaw was formally described by the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus in 1758 in the tenth edition of his Systema Naturae under the binomial name Psittacus macao. [2] The scarlet macaw is now placed in the genus Ara (Lacépède, 1799), one of 6 genera of Central and South American macaws. [3]

The two subspecies can be recognized by size and color detail in the feathers on the wings: [3]

It is about 81 centimeters (32 in) long, of which more than half is the pointed, graduated tail typical of all macaws, though the scarlet macaw has a larger percentage of tail than the other large macaws. The average weight is about 1 kilogram (2.2 lb). The plumage is mostly scarlet, but the rump and tail-covert feathers are light blue, the greater upper wing 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 in the wings.

At Fort Worth Zoo Ara macao -Fort Worth Zoo-8.jpg
At Fort Worth Zoo

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. Juveniles have dark eyes; adults have light yellow eyes.

It is frequently confused with the slightly larger green-winged macaw, which has more distinct red lines in the face and no yellow in the wing.

Scarlet macaws make very loud, high and sometimes low-pitched, throaty squawks, squeaks and screams designed to carry many miles to call for their groups.

The scarlet macaw can live up to 75 [4] or even 90 [5] years in captivity, although a more typical lifespan is 40 to 50 years. [5] [4]


In May 2013 it was announced that a team of scientists, led by Dr. Christopher M. Seabury and Dr. Ian Tizard of Texas A&M University had sequenced the complete genome of the scarlet macaw. [6] [7]


A typical sighting is of a single bird or a pair flying above the forest canopy, though in some areas flocks can be seen. They may gather at clay licks. [8] Scarlet macaws communicate primarily through raucous honks; however, vocal communication is highly variable, and captive macaws are known to be adept mimics of human speech.

Ara macao feeding on Attalea fruits Ara macao feeding on Attalea fruits.jpg
Ara macao feeding on Attalea fruits


They also love to eat insects and larvae.They are seen feeding heavily on bugs, snails and foliage. Snails and bugs are great source of protein, as they need additional protein during breeding seasons. They also add flowers and nectar to their diet as a supplement [9]


While comparatively docile at most times of the year, scarlet macaws may be formidably aggressive during periods of breeding. Scarlet macaws are monogamous birds, with individuals remaining with one partner throughout their lives. The hen lays two or three white eggs in a tree cavity. The female incubates the eggs for about five weeks, and the chicks fledge from the nest about 90 days after hatching. [10] and leave their parents about a year later. Juveniles reach sexual maturity at five years of age.

Distribution and habitat

The South American range is extensive and covers the Amazon forest ; extending to Peru east of the Andes, to Bolivia. [11] In Bolivia, it is very present in the Aquicuana Reserve, located in the Beni Department, near the city of Riberalta, the Capital of the Bolivian Amazon.

Ara macao -Diergaarde Blijdorp -flying-8a.jpg
Ara macao -flying away-8a.jpg
Scarlet macaw in flight

In Central America, the range extends from extreme eastern and southern Mexico and Panama through Guatemala and Belize, the island of Coiba and infrequently on the mainland of Panama, and in Costa Rica in isolated regions on the Pacific Coast; the Nicoya Peninsula the Carara National Park and Peninsula de Osa.

The scarlet macaw has escaped or been deliberately released in to Florida, but there is no evidence that the population is breeding and may only persist due to continuing releases or escapes. [12]

Scarlet macaws inhabit humid lowland subtropical rain forests, open woodlands, river edges, and savannas.

Conservation status

The habitat of scarlet macaws is also considered to have 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 the bird is mostly confined to tiny populations scattered throughout its original range in Middle America. [13] However, as they still occur in large numbers over most of their original range in South America, the species is classified by IUCN as least concern. [1]

A pair of scarlet macaws at Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Florida. Ara macao - two at Lowry Park Zoo.jpg
A pair of scarlet macaws at Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Florida.

It is listed on CITES Appendix 1 due to predation for the pet and cage bird trade. [14] Both subspecies are listed by USFWS as endangered. [15]


The scarlet macaw is an early example of a parrot breeding in captivity. Captive breeding occurred in Northern Mexico at Paquime (also called Casas Grandes) and very likely Southwest New Mexico Mimbres Valley in the 11th century. Breeding pens, perches, bones, and eggshell fragments have been uncovered. The straightforward nature of scarlet macaw breeding and the value of their plumes in trade created a market for trade wherein the animals were used in religious rites north to the Colorado Plateau region.

Today the scarlet macaw is found worldwide in captivity, but is best represented in captivity in the Americas. Captive techniques developed from the pet trade have positively affected wild populations: in areas with low macaws populations, the "extra" babies that typically die in the nest may be reared by humans hands and released into the wild to bolster the population, as has been done by the Tambopata Macaw Project. Their captive diet, egg incubation, assisted hatching, hand rearing, co-parenting, parent-rearing, fledgling, maturation, and breeding are well understood within the avicultural community (AFA Watchbird magazine).

The birds can hybridize with other members of genus Ara in captivity, leading to hybrids. In the United States, hybrid scarlet macaws are created for their appearance and value in the bird trade. Hybrid scarlet macaws are also created because of fear of prosecution, as birds breeders find themselves potentially liable for enormous fines and felonies (i.e., Lacey Act) as their captive-bred pets are added to the U.S. Endangered Species List. As punishments are not given to those who sell or work with hybrid macaws, breeders are encouraged to mix genes to avoid punishment.

See also

Related Research Articles

Macaw Type of parrot

Macaws are long-tailed, often colorful, New World parrots. They are popular in aviculture or as companion parrots, although there are conservation concerns about several species in the wild.

Red-and-green macaw species of bird

The red-and-green macaw, also known as the green-winged macaw, is a large, mostly-red macaw of the genus Ara.

Blue-and-yellow macaw species of bird

The blue-and-gold macaw, also known as the blue-and-yellow macaw, is a large South American parrot with mostly blue top parts and light orange underparts, with gradient hues of green on top of its head. It is a member of the large group of neotropical parrots known as macaws. It inhabits forest, woodland and savannah of tropical South America. They are popular in aviculture because of their striking color, ability to talk, ready availability in the marketplace, and close bonding to humans.

Hyacinth macaw species of parrot native to central and eastern South America

The hyacinth macaw, or hyacinthine macaw, is a parrot native to central and eastern South America. With a length of about one meter (3.3 ft) it is longer than any other species of parrot. It is the largest macaw and the largest flying parrot species, though the flightless kakapo of New Zealand can outweigh it at up to 3.5 kg. While generally easily recognized, it could be confused with the smaller Lear's macaw. Habitat loss and the trapping of wild birds for the pet trade have taken a heavy toll on their population in the wild, so the species is classified as Vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List, and it is protected by its listing on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Blue-throated macaw species of bird

The blue-throated macaw, also known as the Caninde macaw or Wagler's macaw, is a macaw endemic to a small area of north-central Bolivia, known as Los Llanos de Moxos. In 2014 this species was designated by law as a natural patrimony of Bolivia, where it is known as barba azul, which means 'blue beard' in Spanish. Until 2010, it was hunted by natives to make feathered "Moxeño" headdresses for "machetero" ritual dances.

Red-fronted macaw Species of bird found in Bolivia

The red-fronted macaw is a parrot endemic to a small semi-desert mountainous area of Bolivia. It is a critically endangered species; it has been successfully bred in captivity, and is available, if not common, as a pet. It is also sometimes known in the literature as Lafresnaye's macaw, named for the French ornithologist Frédéric de Lafresnaye, who was one of the first to describe the species.

Military macaw species of bird

The military macaw is a large parrot and a medium-sized macaw that gets its name from its predominantly green plumage resembling a military parade uniform. It is native to forests of Mexico and South America and though considered vulnerable in the wild, it is still commonly found in the pet trade industry.

Red-shouldered macaw species of bird

The red-shouldered macaw is a small green South American parrot, a member of a large group of Neotropical parrots called macaws. The species is named for the red coverts on its wings. It is the smallest macaw, being 30–35 cm (12–14 in) in length - similar in size to the Aratinga parakeets. It is native to the tropical lowlands, savannah, and swamplands of Venezuela, the Guianas, Bolivia, Brazil, and far south-eastern Peru. It has two distinct subspecies, the noble macaw and the Hahn's macaw, and a possible poorly distinct third subspecies that has longer wings, but is otherwise similar to the noble macaw. The Hahn's subspecies is named for German zoologist Carl-Wilhelm Hahn, who in 1834 began compiling Ornithologischer Atlas oder naturgetreue Abbildung und Beschreibung der aussereuropäischen Vögel.

Golden-collared macaw species of bird

The golden-collared macaw or yellow-collared macaw is a small mostly green Central South American parrot, a member of a large group of Neotropical parrots known as macaws. It has a bright yellow patch on the back of its neck/upper shoulders that gives the species its name. In aviculture, it is one of a number of smaller macaws often called "mini-macaws".

Great green macaw species of bird

The great green macaw, also known as Buffon's macaw or the great military macaw, is a Central and South American parrot found in Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia and Ecuador. Two allopatric subspecies are recognized; the nominate subspecies, Ara ambiguus ssp. ambiguus, occurs from Honduras to Colombia, while Ara ambiguus ssp. guayaquilensis appears to be endemic to remnants of dry forests on the southern Pacific coast of Ecuador. The nominate subspecies lives in the canopy of wet tropical forests and in Costa Rica is usually associated with the almendro tree, Dipteryx oleifera.

<i>Ara</i> (genus) genus of birds

Ara is a neotropical genus of macaws with eight extant species and at least two extinct species. The genus name was coined by French naturalist Bernard Germain de Lacépède in 1799. It gives its name to and is part of the Arini, or tribe of neotropical parrots. The genus name Ara is likely related to arara, a Portuguese word for Ara, itself derived from the Tupi word a'rara.

Cuban macaw An extinct species of macaw native to Cuba

The Cuban macaw or Cuban red macaw was a species of macaw native to the main island of Cuba and the nearby Isla de la Juventud that became extinct in the late 19th century. Its relationship with other macaws in its genus was long uncertain, but it was thought to have been closely related to the scarlet macaw, which has some similarities in appearance. It may also have been closely related, or identical, to the hypothetical Jamaican red macaw. A 2018 DNA study found that it was the sister species of two red and two green species of extant macaws.

Thick-billed parrot species of bird

The thick-billed parrot is a medium-sized green and red parrot found in Mexico, that formerly ranged into the southwestern United States. Its position in parrot phylogeny is the subject of ongoing discussion; it is sometimes referred to as thick-billed macaw or thick-billed conure. In Mexico, it is locally called guacamaya ("macaw") or cotorra serrana. Classified internationally as Endangered through IUCN, the thick-billed parrot's decline has been central to multiple controversies over wildlife management. In 2018, the estimated wild population in Mexico was 1,700.

Blue-winged macaw species of bird

The blue-winged macaw, in aviculture more commonly known as Illiger's macaw, is a species of macaw found in central and eastern South America. The second name is in honor of the German ornithologist Johann Karl Wilhelm Illiger. It was previously placed in the genera Ara or Propyrrhura. Blue-winged macaws have been known to reach an age of 50–60 years.

Blue-headed macaw species of bird

The blue-headed macaw or Coulon's macaw is native to eastern Peru, north-western Bolivia, and far western Brazil. It has a total length of about 41 cm (16 in), making it a member of the group of smaller macaws sometimes known as the mini-macaws, which includes any species of macaw with a total length of 50 cm (20 in) or less. As in all macaws, its tail is long and pointed and the bill is large and heavy.

Lesser Antillean macaw Extinct bird from the Caribbean

The Lesser Antillean macaw or Guadeloupe macaw is a hypothetical extinct species of macaw that is thought to have been endemic to the Lesser Antillean island region of Guadeloupe. In spite of the absence of conserved specimens, many details about the Lesser Antillean macaw are known from several contemporary accounts, and the bird is the subject of some illustrations. Austin Hobart Clark described the species on the basis of these accounts in 1905. Due to the lack of physical remains, and the possibility that sightings were of macaws from the South American mainland, doubts have been raised about the existence of this species. A phalanx bone from the island of Marie-Galante confirmed the existence of a similar-sized macaw inhabiting the region prior to the arrival of humans and was correlated with the Lesser Antillean macaw in 2015. Later that year, historical sources distinguishing between the red macaws of Guadeloupe and the scarlet macaw of the mainland were identified, further supporting its validity.

Jandaya parakeet species of bird

The jandaya parakeet or jenday conure is a small Neotropical parrot with green wings and tail, reddish-orange body, yellow head and neck, orange cheeks, and black bill, native to wooded habitats in northeastern Brazil. It is a member of the Aratinga solstitialis complex of parakeets very closely related to, and possibly subspecies of the sun parakeet.

The Macaw Society

The Macaw Society is a long-term research project on the ecology and conservation of macaws and parrots under the direction of Dr. Donald Brightsmith and Dr. Gabriela Vigo of the Schubot Exotic Bird Health Center at the Texas A&M University. The project has been working with wildlife and local communities since 1989. The long-term research and monitoring has provided many insights into various aspects of parrot and wildlife of south-eastern Peru. Macaws are among the most effective flagship species for ecosystem conservation in the Amazonian rainforest.

Catalina macaw hybrid bird

The catalina macaw is a hybrid between the blue-and-gold macaw and scarlet macaw. As catalina macaws are hybrids, they do not have a true scientific name. The best way to represent these birds in taxonomy is by the expression Ara ararauna × Ara macao.

Hybrid macaw

Hybrid macaws are the product of cross breeding of more than one species of macaw, resulting in a hybrid. They are often characterized and bred for their unique and distinct coloring, and for this reason, are highly sought after and valued in the exotic pet trade. Macaws are native to tropical North and South America. Hybridization of macaws occurs both in nature and captivity, being one of the few species that can produce viable, fertile offspring unlike many other hybrids produced from crossing different species resulting in sterile hybrids with factors that limit their success of survival. Hybrid macaws do not hold any scientific names, and are often labeled by the two macaw species they are produced from


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