Ara macaoscarlet macaw

Geographic Range

Ara macao is found in southern Mexico, Central America, and South America. In South America, the species is found as far south as northeastern Argentina. Ara macao is most common throughout the Amazon basin. (Slud, 1964)


Scarlet macaws are found high in the canopy of rainforest habitats below 1,ooo m (Slud, 1964).

  • Range elevation
    1000 (high) m
    3280.84 (high) ft

Physical Description

Scarlet macaws are brightly colored birds with feathers ranging in color bands from scarlet on their head and shoulders, to yellow on their back and mid wing feathers and blue on the wing tips and tail feathers. The face has short white feathers. This area surrounds the light yellow colored eyes. The long, thick beak is light on the top and dark black on the bottom. The legs and feet are also black (Aditays, 2000).

Body length is approximately 89 cm, with the tail comprising approximately 1/3 - 1/2 of this. Tail feathers of males may be longer than females. Also, bills of males may be slightly larger (Sick, 1993).

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Average mass
    1200 g
    42.29 oz
  • Average mass
    1040 g
    36.65 oz
  • Average length
    89 cm
    35.04 in


Scarlet macaws form monogamous pair bonds that last for life.

Breeding in Ara macao occurs about every one to two years. The clutch size is 2 to 4 white, rounded eggs with an incubation period of 24 to 25 days. Females mainly incubate the eggs. After hatching, the young may stay with their parents for one to two years. The male feeds the young by regurgitating and liquefying food (Sick, 1993). The parents will not raise another set of eggs until the previous young have become independent (Aditays, 2000). Scarlet macaws reach sexual maturity at three or four years of age (Sick, 1993).

  • Breeding interval
    Breeding occurs every one to two years.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding may occur year-round.
  • Range eggs per season
    2 to 4
  • Range time to hatching
    24 to 25 days
  • Range time to independence
    1 to 2 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    3-4 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    3-4 years

Both male and female scarlet macaws care for their young. Scarlet macaws have an extended period of dependence on their parents, with perhaps some significant learning occuring before they become sexually mature and independent.

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • post-independence association with parents
  • extended period of juvenile learning


Large macaws may live up to 75 years in captivity. Typical lifespans in the wild and in captivity are closer to 40 to 50 years.


Ara macao individuals gather in flocks to sleep at night, but maintain a monogamous pair bond for life. Macaws are mostly found in pairs either in their nests or flying together. Mates may show affection by licking each other's faces and mutual preening. Once paired with a mate, they are rarely found alone except to feed when one bird must incubate the eggs (Sick, 1993).

Nests are made in hollowed areas in trees, usually in the upper canopy of rainforests. There, in the protection of the thick foliage, they are camouflaged so predators are less likely to spot them. Typical predators of Ara macao are monkeys, toucans, snakes, and other large mammals. If scarlet macaws are in the nest and frightened by something, they will cautiously inspect the scenario until the danger is gone. If the nest is directly threatened, the macaws will quietly escape to safety one at a time (Sick, 1993).

Scarlet Macaws, and parrots in general, frequently use their left foot in handling food and in grasping other things. The right foot supports their body when they are utilizing the other leg as an appendage to aid the beak. This left handed condition seems to be based on the same principle as the preferential hand that humans utilize. This may be due to the development of the macaw's right side of the brain over that of the left side (Sick, 1993).

Communication and Perception

Scarlet macaws communicate with a variety of vocalizations and postures. Mated pairs are engaging in tactile communication when preening.

Scarlet macaws have excellent vision and hearing.

Food Habits

Scarlet macaws primarily eat fruit and nuts, and will occasionally supplement their diet with nectar and flowers. Ara macao individuals are known to consume fruits before they are ripe. Premature fruits have a tougher skin and pulp that is difficult to access unless the bird has a beak large enough to tear into it. By accessing these fruits before they are available to other animals, they may gain a competitive advantage. Scarlet macaws are also able to break open the toughest nuts. Parrots have more movement in their beaks than do other birds, which allows for a more powerful bill. This ability creates an important food resource for the parrots because not a lot of other animals are able to access such a large variety of nuts (Aditays, 2000). There are structures on the inside of their beaks that allow scarlet macaws to press the hard seed between their tongue and palate and grind the seed so that it can be digested (Sick, 1993).

Scarlet macaws occasionally consume clay found on the banks of rivers. This aids in digestion of the harsh chemicals such as tannins that are ingested when eating premature fruit (Aditays, 2000).

  • Plant Foods
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit
  • nectar
  • flowers


As adults scarlet macaws may escape most predation by virtue of their size and flight. Young may be taken in the nest by arboreal predators such as snakes, monkeys, and other small carnivores. Adults and fledglings may also be taken by large cats, such as jaguars, and by eagles and hawks.

Ecosystem Roles

Scarlet macaws are important seed predators of large tree fruits in the ecosystems in which they live. They may influence the generation of forest tree species.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

The illegal, international parrot trade brings in large revenues each year due to the high demand for these colorful birds. An individual scarlet macaw may be sold for more than $1,000. Also, birds may be hunted for meat and the feathers traded for money. Current law dictates that it is illegal to trade in Ara macao individuals due to their CITES Appendix I status (Ridgely and Gwynne, 1989).

Scarlet macaws are more valuable to people as valuable and beautiful members of tropical forests, where their presence has significant ecotourism benefits.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no negative impacts of macaw species on humans.

Conservation Status

The habitat of scarlet macaws is threatened due to forest destruction in the deep rainforest habitats where they live. Also, poachers seek out the parrots and will even cut down the tree where the nest is located to access the young or will shoot the adults for food (Ridgely and Gwynne, 1989). Cutting down trees to access macaws limits the number of places to nest and this practice will eventually limit the numbers of young raised.

Efforts have been made to slow population declines of scarlet macaws. The World Parrot Trust was formed in 1989 to protect parrots in their natural environment. Also, there is a trend towards breeders providing feathers from the birds that they sell so that other macaws will not be poached solely for feathers (Sick, 1993).

Nine of the sixteen species of macaws are listed on Appendix I of CITES, including scarlet macaws. Reproductive rates in the wild are low for a number of reasons, including a natural scarcity of suitable nesting sites. Some conservation organizations have found that macaw species will nest in artificial cavities and have supplemented certain areas with artifical nesting boxes. (Brightsmith, 2004; Ridgely and Gwynne, 1989; Sick, 1993)

Other Comments

The parrot family is so ancient that there is no information in the fossil record as to their closest relative. Through electrophoretic analysis of eggshells and egg whites it is currently thought that pigeons are parrots closest relatives (Sick, 1993).


Michelle Mijal (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.


Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


an animal that mainly eats fruit


an animal that mainly eats seeds


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


uses touch to communicate


Living on the ground.


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


uses sight to communicate

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year


Aditays, J. 2000. "Scarlet Macaw" (On-line). Accessed March 13, 2000 at

Brightsmith, D. 2004. "Macaws, their Nesting Sites and the Macaw Project" (On-line). Rainforest Expeditions. Accessed February 06, 2004 at

Ridgely, R., J. Gwynne. 1989. A Guide to Birds of Panama. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Sick, H. 1993. Birds in Brazil, a Natural History. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Slud, P. 1964. Birds of Costa Rica. New York: Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, Volume 128.