Our Birds - Scarlet Macaw
Our Animals > Scarlet Macaw
The Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao) is a large, colorful macaw. It is native to humid evergreen forests in the American tropics. Range extends from extreme south-eastern Mexico to Amazonian Peru, Bolivia 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 parrot trade, but locally it remains fairly common. Formerly it ranged north to southern Tamaulipas. It can still be found on the island of Coiba. It is also the national bird of Honduras.
It is about 81 centimeters (32 in) long, of which more than half is the pointed, graduated tail typical of all 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. 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; the only difference between ages is that young birds have dark eyes, and adults have light yellow eyes. It is frequently confused with the slightly larger Red-and-green Macaw, which has more distinct red lines in the face and no yellow in the wing.
Scarlet Macaws make loud, 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 years in captivity, although, a more typical lifespan is 40 to 50 years.
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 nuts and fruits. They also feed on nectar and buds.
The Scarlet Macaw lays two or three white eggs in a tree cavity. The female incubates the eggs for about 5 weeks, and the chicks fledge from the nest about 90 days after hatching and leave their parents about a year later.
Distribution and habitat
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.
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 Carrara 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 km. 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. However, as they still occur in large numbers in some parts of their territory.