Ara rubrogenysred-fronted macaw

Geographic Range

Red-fronted macaws (Ara rubrogenys) are endemic to the arid valleys of south-central Bolivia, South America. They range from south Cochabamba and west Santa Cruz through north Chuquisaca to north-east Potosí in Bolivia. The largest populations of red-fronted macaws are in the valleys of Ríos Grande, Mizque and Pilcomayo. (Benstead, et al., 1992; Hoyo, et al., 1992; Lanning, 1991)


Red-fronted macaws live in the warm, dry valleys of Bolivia. Due to low annual rainfall of 300 to 800 mm, the vegetation is primarily thorny-scrub with a variety of cacti. Red-fronted macaws nest in cavities of river-side canyons and gorges (Benstead, et al., 1992; Lanning, 1991)

Physical Description

Red-fronted macaws are a smaller macaw species with an average length of 60 cm (24 in) and an average wingspan of 81.28 cm (32 in). They are the lightest macaw, weighing in between 425 to 550 grams. Red-fronted macaws are predominately green in color with red patches on the forehead, shoulders, and behind the eyes. Primary feathers are a striking teal-blue, while the tail ranges from green to teal-blue as well. Red-fronted macaws have pale skin located around the eye. Male and females look alike in coloration. Juvenile red-fronted macaws have all green heads and begin to show red coloration between six to twelve months of age. Their wings are entirely green and they exhibit only some red feathers around the thigh area. ("Red Fronted Macaws from Avalon Avary", 2010; "Red-fronted Macaw", 2009; Benstead, et al., 1992; Lanning, 1991; "Red-fronted macaw (Ara rubrogenys)", 2003)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    425 to 550 g
    14.98 to 19.38 oz
  • Average length
    60 cm
    23.62 in
  • Average wingspan
    81.28 cm
    32.00 in


Red-fronted macaws form monogamous pair-bonds that are maintained year-round. Even outside of the breeding season, copulation and preening occur exclusively between pairs presumably to maintain their bond. Pairs also exhibit caressing behaviors defined by nibbling face feathers or grasping beaks. Since both the male and female are similar in color and size, sexual dimorphism is not the basis of mate selection. (Hoyo, et al., 1992; Lanning, 1991; Pitter and Christiansen, 1997)

Red-fronted macaws breed once a year between October and March. They nest in cavities on angled cliff sides of narrow, rocky gorges. Nests are comprised mainly of sandstone. They lay 1 to 3 eggs per season and incubation is around 26 days. ("Red-fronted Macaw", 2009)

  • Breeding interval
    Red-fronted Macaws breed once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    Red-fronted Macaws breed from October to March.
  • Range eggs per season
    1 to 3
  • Average time to hatching
    26 days

Observations have shown that both parents tend the nest, but time spent in the nest varies in each pair. After young hatch, parents spend most of their time in the nest. Post-fledging, juveniles join a flock with their parents. Many social activities occur within the flock, but the majority of interactions occur within members of the same 'family' (parent-parent, parent-juvenile, juvenile-juvenile). (Lanning, 1991)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • male parental care
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
    • protecting
  • post-independence association with parents


Red-fronted macaws may live up to 50 years. Many pet resources report the birds to live upwards of 25 years. ("Red-fronted Macaw", 2009; Benstead, et al., 1992)

  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    50 (high) years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: captivity
    25 (low) years


Red-fronted macaws are social and rarely found alone. They are often seen flying in small groups of 3 to 5 individuals. For most activities such as foraging or roosting they congregate in larger groups of 2 to 30. Resting often occurs during the middle of the day, during the hottest hours. Activity level is largely dependent on the age and number of individuals in the flock. Activity level increases in larger or younger flocks. Younger flocks are also much more vocal. They generally keep close to nesting sites, flying up and down the cliffs and drainage areas around the valley. While sitting in groups red-fronted macaws are reported to exhibit four different play patterns. These patterns include pecking at each other, beak wrestling and fencing, alternating jerks of the body while on branches, and tossing objects. (Hoyo, et al., 1992; Lanning, 1991; Pitter and Christiansen, 1997)

Home Range

Red-fronted macaws are generally not territorial, but during the breeding season pairs may defend the area immediately surrounding the nest cavity. (Benstead, et al., 1992; Hoyo, et al., 1992; Lanning, 1991; Pitter and Christiansen, 1997)

Communication and Perception

Red-fronted macaws produce loud vocalizations when communicating. They are intelligent and can learn how to speak and whistle in addition to having a boisterous squawk. They have two distinct vocalizations known as quiet twitter-vocalizations and alert-vocalizations. Quiet twitter-vocalization occur between partners. The calls between the pair begin with a loud squawk and decline into a soft coo and chuckle. Alert-vocalizations are given in response to predators in the area and consist of loud vocalization for long intervals. Juveniles have a softer, yet higher pitch call which is still used by adults.

Red-fronted macaws utilize many tactile forms of communication, mainly between pairs. Pairs often perform allopreening (mutual preening), beak grabbing, or nibbling of facial feathers throughout the year to maintain pair bonds.

The social flocking behavior of red-fronted macaws may suggest that flocks are an information hub where individuals can share knowledge such as good foraging locations. Flocks also exhibit social facilitation where one individual starts a behavior, such as a particular vocalization, which is quickly mimicked and spread throughout the flock. This behavior is suggested to support group cohesion and reduce aggression among group members.

Red-fronted macaws perceive their environment through visual, auditory, tactile, and chemical stimuli. ("Red-fronted Macaw", 2009; Pitter and Christiansen, 1997; "Red-fronted macaw (Ara rubrogenys)", 2003)

  • Other Communication Modes
  • mimicry

Food Habits

Red-fronted macaws mostly feed on vegetation, vegetables, fruit and nuts. Fruits of trees such as Jatropha hieronymii are the main source of nutrition. Most grasses found in the Bolivia valleys are also consumed. Cacti (Cereus) are included in the diet and serve as a source of both food and water in their arid habitat. Like many macaws, they often chew on sticks or tree bark. As a result of habitat destruction for agriculture, grazing, or firewood there are fewer native food sources available and the birds have turned to cultivated crops. The preferred crop is corn, as the birds will invest hours of time in evading farmer's attempts to ward them off. (Hoyo, et al., 1992; Lanning, 1991; Pitter and Christiansen, 1997)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • wood, bark, or stems
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit
  • flowers


Attacks by peregrine falcons have been documented. Flocking behavior is often considered an anti-predator mechanism. Red-fronted macaws often form flocks of 2 to 30 individuals, and will simultaneously fly up in alarm when raptors are near. This makes it difficult for a predator to pick out and successfully attack one individual. (Pitter and Christiansen, 1997)

Ecosystem Roles

Red-fronted macaws have a mutualistic relationship with cacti in the area. Since both macaw and cactus are limited to the same arid environment, macaws are an effective seed dispersant. After Red-fronted Macaws eat cacti fruits, the seeds are excreted unharmed and are distributed throughout the valley, thus supporting the population of the cactus. Red-fronted macaws also inadvertently pollinate some plants while foraging. ("Red Fronted Macaws from Avalon Avary", 2010; Hoyo, et al., 1992; Lanning, 1991; Pitter and Christiansen, 1997)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds
  • pollinates
Mutualist Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Red-fronted macaws help pollinate some plants in the Bolivia area to preserve its beautiful botanical communities. Their playful, affectionate, and curious personalities in captivity are increasing their popularity as a household pet. Thanks to captive breeding they are becoming more readily available for the pet trade. ("Red Fronted Macaws from Avalon Avary", 2010; Hoyo, et al., 1992; Lanning, 1991)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Red-fronted macaws have been considered a nuisance to farmers in Bolivia. Since corn is the main source of food in the red-fronted macaw diet, many crops are affected by their presence. This is detrimental to the production of corn for the farmers who depend on this crop. (Hoyo, et al., 1992)

  • Negative Impacts
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

Since 1991, the population of red-fronted macaws has been on the decline. They are listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List. They are endemic to a very small range in Bolivia, and with increasing habitat destruction their natural food sources are becoming increasingly rare. Red-fronted macaws then turn to human agriculture, mainly corn, for sustenance. Many farmers perceive the birds as pests and utilize firearms or traps to protect their crops. As of 2009, the population estimate has ranged from 4,000 to as low as 1,000 red-fronted macaws in the Bolivia Valley area. (Benstead, et al., 1992; Hoyo, et al., 1992)


Eric Stumpff (author), Florida State University, Emily DuVal (editor), Florida State University, Rachelle Sterling (editor), Special Projects.



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

World Map


uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.


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.

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


used loosely to describe any group of organisms living together or in close proximity to each other - for example nesting shorebirds that live in large colonies. More specifically refers to a group of organisms in which members act as specialized subunits (a continuous, modular society) - as in clonal organisms.

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

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.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


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).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males


imitates a communication signal or appearance of another kind of organism


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.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


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.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


uses sight to communicate


2010. "Red Fronted Macaws from Avalon Avary" (On-line). Avalon Avary. Accessed February 08, 2010 at

2009. "Red-fronted Macaw" (On-line). World Parrot Trust. Accessed February 07, 2010 at

Wild Screen. 2003. "Red-fronted macaw (Ara rubrogenys)" (On-line). ARKive Images of Life on Earth. Accessed February 07, 2010 at

Benstead, P., D. Capper, T. Stuart, A. Symes. 1992. "Red-fronted Macaw Ara rubrogenys" (On-line). Accessed February 07, 2010 at

Hoyo, J., A. Elliott, J. Sargatal, J. Cabot. 1992. Handbook of the birds of the World. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions.

Lanning, D. 1991. Distribution and Breeding Biology of the Red-Fronted Macaw. The Wilson Bulletin, 103/3: 357-365.

Pitter, E., M. Christiansen. 1997. Behavior of Indiviuals and Social Interactions of the Red-fronted Macaw Ara rubrogenys in the Wild During the Midday rest. Ornitologia Neotropical, 8: 133-143.