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Scarlet Macaw

The Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao) is a large, colourful parrot.

It is native to humid evergreen forests in the American tropics, from extreme eastern Mexico locally to Amazonian Peru and Brazil, in lowlands up to 500 meters (at least formerly up to 1000m). 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.


It is about 81 to 96 cm (32 to 36 inches) long, of which more than half is the pointed, graduated tail typical of all macaws. The average weight is about a kilogram (2 to 2.5 pounds). 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. There is bare white skin around the eye and from there to the bill. The upper mandible is mostly pale horn in color and the lower is black. Sexes are alike; the only difference between ages is that young birds have dark eyes, and adults have light yellow eyes.

Scarlet Macaws make loud, low-pitched, throaty squawks, squeaks and screams designed to carry many miles.


Scarlet Macaws eat mostly fruits and seeds, including large, hard seeds. 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. They like apples, nuts, bananas, and fruits. They also feed on nectar and buds.


The Macaws can live up to 80 years old and maybe even longer than that.Like most parrots, the Scarlet Macaw lays 2 to 4 white eggs in a tree cavity. The young hatch after 24 to 25 days. They fledge about 105 days later and leave their parents as late as a year.


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.Juniper, T. and M. Parr. 1998. Parrots: A Guide to Parrots of the World. Yale University Press. While generally infrequent on the mainland, great colonies of Scarlet Macaws can still be found on the islands of Coiba.

Before the Scarlet Macaw's decline in population, its distribution included much of Costa Rica. However, by the 1960s Scarlet Macaws had been decreasing in numbers due to a combination of factors, particularly hunting, poaching, and the destruction of habitat through deforestation. Further, the spraying of pesticides by companies cultivating and selling bananas for export played a significant role in decreasing Scarlet Macaw populations.

The combined factors stressed the population of Scarlet Macaws in Costa Rica, where they had previously occupied approximately 42,500 km of the country's total national territory of 51,100 km, 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% of their historic range in Costa Rica.Marineros, L., and Vaughan, C., (1995). Scarlet Macaws of Carara. In: Abramson, J., Speer, B., and Thomsen, J. (Eds.), The Large Macaws: Their Care Breeding and Conservation. Raintree Publications, Fort Bragg, California, pp. 445467.

The habitat of Scarlet Macaws is considered to be the greatest latitudinal range for any bird in the genus Ara,Marineros, L., and Vaughan, C., (1995). Scarlet Macaws of Carara. In: Abramson, J., Speer, B., and Thomsen, J. (Eds.), The Large Macaws: Their Care Breeding and Conservation. Raintree Publications, Fort Bragg, California, pp. 445467. as the estimated maximum territorial range covers 6,700,000 km. Nevertheless, the Scarlet macaws habitat is fragmented, and colonies of the bird are mostly confined to tiny populations scattered throughout Central and South America.Juniper, T., and M. Parr., (1998). Parrots: A Guide to Parrots of the World. Yale University Press. However, as they still occur in large numbers in some parts of their territory, where they are described as "common," the World Conservation Union evaluated the species in 2004 as "Least Concern".

Aviculture, Captivity, and Care

Scarlet Macaws are popular, but are a high maintenance pet; they are expensive to purchase, adopt, or maintain, they are demanding, and they are extremely loud and noisy cage birds. They ideally should be handled by someone with experience; they are prized for their beautiful plumage and considered very affectionate with their owners. They are considered an intelligent species that can use human speech well. Many hybrids between this and other macaw species are popular and different variations of coloring are numerous like the one pictured at right.

The Scarlet Macaw is a CITES I listed species, meaning that they are illegal to take from the wild without specific special permits [*]. They are not endangered as of 2008 but are very vulnerable to the pet trade. Like many rarer parrot species today, they do occasionally find their way 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. Even a captive bred bird can sell for thousands of dollars and so are potentially an attractive species to poach: a poacher could earn a fortune when a single flock is captured, and many die from stress on their way to points north. When selecting a bird of this species extreme caution must be taken that it does not come from wild sources in Mexico, Central, or South America. A potential owner must make certain the source of the bird is a supplier with well documented physical evidence of a captive breeding source. No bird that has been kidnapped from its home and family will ever be truly happy as a pet!

Scarlet Macaws require a large amount of room and thus the cage a single bird occupies should be as large as possible, 36 inches wide x 36 inches deep x 60 inches high, or larger as a whole. They need ample amounts of room to prevent the muscles in their wings from atrophying as well as plenty of room to play, exercise in, and spread their wings. The bars of the cage should be no larger than 1 inch apart and should be made of durable metal. It should not have parts that contain lead or zinc, including paint on the bars. The cage should be cleaned weekly and thoroughly with a mild disinfectant soap; a grate is preferable to separate the bird from its feces. The cage should be placed in an area that is off the floor, well-lit, and warm (a macaw has little tolerance towards cold.) Perches are acceptable and recommended as an additional place to hang out as well as a spray bottle of lukewarm water to bathe the bird. (All macaws typically like water and will also respond happily to an outing in the kitchen sink as well.) They should eat a diet that mimics what they eat in the wild but if given nuts should ideally be given those with a higher fat content

In addition to requiring large spaces Scarlet Macaws equally require a great deal of stimulation, attention, and affection. They thrive on and need frequent, regular interaction and so should be removed from their cages for long periods to socialize and be slowly socialized with others to retain a friendly disposition towards people; they need time to get to know strangers. They will naturally be extremely vocal and should not be discouraged from this behavior but should be given limits overall. Children are not recommended to have this bird as a pet and in particular should interact with Scarlet Macaws under adult supervision and taught to respect a large, very sensitive bird with a powerful beak designed to crush hard nuts. They love to play and should have plenty of toys in good condition for stimulation; they habitually chew whatever they can get their beaks on and so wooden toys are recommended both for enrichment and to avoid beak overgrowth. Toys that are worn out should be replaced and care should be taken to keep a Scarlet Macaw's curious mind occupied. Birds that do not receive enough attention often display behaviors of over-preening, self-mutilation, depression, and extreme rage/aggression.

The Scarlet Macaw is a bird that needs veterinary care all of its very long life. Regular checkups with a veterinarian who understands and treats birds are necessary as with any other pet. .

External links

Scarlet Macaw videos on the Internet Bird Collection

City Parrots: Where parrots are wild in flying colour. Two feral Scarlet Macaws living in the Netherlands

Page on the Scarlet Macaw from the Sedgwick County Zoo accessed March 31, 2005

Care sheet for Scarlet Macaws from Petco.com accessed March 31, 2005

IUCN page on the Scarlet Macaw accessed March 31, 2005

Page of photographs of Scarlet and Green-winged Macaws at a clay lick from Parrots International

Scarlet Macaw photo on PBase

Stamps (15 countries) with RangeMap


CITES page on the Scarlet Macaw accessed May 17, 2007

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This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Scarlet Macaw

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