(Ara macao)

FUN FACT

Scarlet Macaws are often seen in the company of other parrots, eating clay from riverbank cliffs (a behavior known as “geophagy”). Scientists aren’t sure why parrots engage in this behavior, but it’s suspected that the clay acts as a buffer against toxins in their natural diet.

 

Few birds are as breathtaking as a Scarlet Macaw in flight.  Brilliantly red, with vibrant blue-and-yellow wings, this big, noisy parrot also measures nearly three feet long from beak to tail – with half of that being tail!  When a pair of Scarlets is racing past at 35 miles per hour, screaming companionably back and forth to each other, they definitely make an impression.

Scarlet Macaws live much of their lives high in the rainforest canopies of South America.  They’re most often found in pairs or small family groups, but will communally roost overnight in flocks of up to 50 unrelated individuals.  Each macaw family maintains its own large territory, which it will move throughout in search of food and places to nest.  This dependence on trees – both for feeding and for nests – makes Scarlets particularly vulnerable to pressures from logging and deforestation.  But it is their beauty and charismatic personality that fuels the main threat to Scarlet Macaws in the wild – the pet trade.

Every year, hundreds of nests are raided by poachers who kill the parents and sell the chicks into the black market, often for as little as $200.  The loss of a nesting site (the trees are often chopped down in order to access a nest) as well as a mature breeding pair exacerbates the damage to the Scarlet Macaw’s populations, since these long-lived birds take up to five years to reach breeding age and reproduce relatively slowly.  Surveys of wild Scarlet Macaw populations indicate alarming declines throughout its range; only 100 pairs remain in Belize, and the wild Scarlet Macaw is gone from El Salvador.

Fortunately for bird-lovers, the Scarlet Macaw is one of the most common captively-bred parrots in the United States.  These active, intelligent, and tremendously noisy birds are not the right companion for everyone.  And anyone who does choose to share their life with a Scarlet Macaw has to be ready for a life-long commitment – captive Scarlet Macaws have been known to live up to 75 years!

Distribution

Widely distributed throughout Central and South America (east of the Andes), from Mexico to Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil.

Habitat

Tall lowland forests and gallery woodlands, usually near rivers.

Diet

A variety of fruits (especially those with tough, thick skins), and nuts too hard for other smaller birds to crack open.

Breeding

Scarlet Macaws nest high above the forest floor in hollow trees (the Aguaje palm is a favorite). The female lays 1-4 white eggs, which she alone incubates for 24-28 days. Both adults take care of chicks until they fledge at about 14 weeks, and then for a few weeks afterwards. Even after they are officially able to care for themselves, juvenile Scarlet Macaws will stay with their parents for up to two years. The parents won’t breed again until their previous offspring are totally independent, making it common for a breeding pair of Scarlet Macaws to only breed every-other-year.

Status

Not Under Threat (Least Concern)

At the Aviary

See the Scarlet Macaw in our Bird Show, and during other special presentations and Encounters.