The scarlet macaw is most notable for the scarlet red feathers which cover the majority of their body. On the lower portions of the wings the feathers are yellow and blue. Their long tail may account for as much as ½ of their length. Around the eye on the face is a patch of white skin which is mostly bare of feathers. The eye is colored pale yellow in adults and grey in juveniles.
On the front of the face is the strong beak. This large curved beak is white on the upper mandible with a black tip and black on the lower mandible.
Most scarlet macaws are considered left handed as they will use the left foot to pick up items.
They are among the largest of the macaw species with adults measuring up to 82.3cm (2.7ft). Their weight varies from 0.8-1.5kg (1.8-3.25lbs). Their wingspan is up to 1m (3.3ft)
The scarlet macaw is primarily herbivorous. They feed on a range of fruits, plants, nuts and seeds. On rare occasions they have been seen eating insects.
Most of the foods eaten by the scarlet macaw are hard skinned or shelled and their large beak means they can break through these.
They have been observed to eat a range of toxic foods. It is believed that they can ingest these foods as they also ingest large amounts of clay which works to neutralize the poisons in their food.
Wild 50 years
Captive 70 years
— AD —
South and Central America is the native home of the scarlet macaw. Here they can be found throughout Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela.
The population in El Salvador is believed to be extinct. They have been reintroduced to Puerto Rico.
They make their home in forest habitats such as lowland forest and gallery woodland. Often they are found near rivers. They appear tolerant of habitat which has been degraded.
Scarlet macaws breed from January to April. They form pairs which remain together for life. Pair remain together year round. Due to the long period of care provided to their young the scarlet macaw will typically only breed once every 2 years.
The nest is located in a naturally formed tree hollow. In this nest the female will lay 1-2 eggs that she incubates for the next 28 days.
After hatching the chicks need to be fed between four and fifteen times a day. Both parents work together to achieve this. Food is regurgitated by the parents for the chicks.
Chicks and eggs face predation from snakes and monkeys.
Fledging occurs between 3 and 4 months old though the chicks will continue to live with the parents for a full year. This long period of parental care allows them to learn the necessary skills to survive in the forest.
Sexual maturity is reached at 4 years old.
The scarlet macaw is incredibly vocal. They often make their ‘rrahh’ call that can carry for several miles.
Most of their time is spent in pairs of family groups. They will gather in groups of up to 50 birds at one time though. These groups maintain a territory within which they can gather food and places to rest.
They are capable of flying at up to 56km/h (35mph). This speed is possible as a result of their hollow bones.
Predators and Threats
Adults face predation from jaguars and eagles. They can escape most predators due to their ability to fly.
Despite being listed as a least concern the scarlet macaw still faces a number of threats from humans. The main drivers of their decline are habitat loss and collection for the pet trade.
They are highly reliant on trees both for food and shelter meaning habitat loss can quickly affect their population.
Collection for the pet trade leads to many of these birds dying even before they reach their intended destination. They can be readily bred in captivity and this is helping to slow wild collection.
The scarlet macaw is one of the 17 macaw species.
Ambrose, J., 2015. Wildlife Of The World. 1st ed. London: Dorling Kindersley.
Mijal, M. 2001. “Ara macao” (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed July 26, 2020 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Ara_macao/
Rainforest Alliance. 2020. Species Profile: Scarlet Macaw. [online] Available at: <https://www.rainforest-alliance.org/species/macaw> [Accessed 26 July 2020].
Fws.gov. 2020. Scarlet Macaws. [online] Available at: <https://www.fws.gov/international/scarlet-macaws.html> [Accessed 26 July 2020].
Aviary.org. 2020. The National Aviary – Scarlet Macaw (Ara Macao). [online] Available at: <https://www.aviary.org/animals/scarlet-macaw> [Accessed 26 July 2020].
BirdLife International. 2016. Ara macao. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T22685563A93079992. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-3.RLTS.T22685563A93079992.en. Downloaded on 26 July 2020.
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