Scarlet Macaw Ara macao

  • Order: Psittaciformes
  • Family: Psittacidae
  • Polytypic: 2 subspecies
  • Authors needed...

The Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao) is a among the 17 extant large psittacine species commonly known as macaws that are restricted to the tropical forest of the Western Hemisphere from Mexico to Brazil. The Cuban Macaw (Ara tricoloris  the only extinct macaw today and the Spix's Macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii) is extirpated from the wild and few individuals remain in captivity around the world.  Macaws species are included in six different genera (Anodorhynchus, Cyanopsitta, Ara, Orthopsittaca, Primolius and Diopsittaca) (AOU 1998, Banks 2008, Remsen et al. 2009). There are eight macaw species in the genus Ara. The Scarlet Macaw is naturally distributed over the forests of the New World Tropics (Neotropical realm). The species has been also accidentally introduced and naturalized  in few urban areas in the United States, Europe and Latin America (Jonker 2005, Lara-Vásquez 2007). 

This species is commonly observed flying in pairs or in family groups. It comprise two extant subspecies which have only recently been recognized, Ara macao cyanoptera from North Central America and Ara macao macao from Central Nicaragua to Brazil (Wiedenfeld 1994). In general, little is known about the life history and ecology of the species. This species is found almost exclusively in tropical evergreen and riparian forest ecosystems from southern Mexico to Brazil and is found from sea level up to 1,000 m above sea level (Forshaw 1989, 2006; Sick 1993; Iñigo-Elias 1996; Juniper and Parr 1998). Its reproduction is slow, and the breeding season varies with the latitude, rainy seasons, and fruit availability in each region of the American continent. In average the species lays one or two eggs, inside natural cavities that are either natural holes (i.e., broken tree limb) or made by another bird such as large woodpeckers (i.e., primary excavator) and some times they even excavated their own cavities in soft snags (Carreon, G. pers. comm.). They can use as a nesting site both live trees or snags. The chicks hatch on average after 28 days of incubation and remain in the nest until the age of 120 to 137 days. Thus they spend between three and four months in the nest. The parents feed them four to 15  times a day. The young birds fly out of the nest together with the parents at between 97 and 140 days of age. They remain with the parents for up to almost one year, until the pair begins to nest again, although it has been recorded that on some occasions the pair will not nest again until the second year. It is estimated that the young birds do not reach sexual maturity until almost three or four years of age. The diet of this macaw consists of fruit, seeds, pods, leaf shoots, flowers and occasionally insects. It is known that it feeds on approximately 25 families, and 126 species, of plants (Forshaw 1989, Iñigo-Elias 1996).  In South America Scarlet macaws and other psittacine species concentrate in mix large flocks to feed in clays (geophagy) (Emmons and Stark 1979, Burger and Gochfeld 2003).

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© Jay McGowan

  • Year-round
  • Migration
  • Breeding
  • Non-Breeding

Recommended Citation

Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao), In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: