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Regions > Americas Outdoor Exhibit > Scarlet macaw

Scarlet macaw

Location at the Zoo: Americas Outdoor Exhibit


Central and South America









Scientific Name:

Ara macao


: The scarlet macaw is strikingly arrayed with brilliant arrangements of blues, reds and yellows. Feathers range in colour 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. The face has short, white feathers; bare patches appear on the cheeks. The long, thick beak is light on the top and dark black on the bottom. The upper mandible is covered with an enlarged, fleshy covering, the cere. The lower mandible fits inside the large, hooked, upper mandible. The body is short and plump, the wings rounded, and the tail is long and tapered. Legs are short and covered with small, granular scales. The legs and feet are black. The sexes look alike, although male feathers may be slightly longer and their bills slightly larger. The scarlet macaw is among the largest birds of the parrot family. They are gregarious in the wild, flying together in noisy, chattering flocks, their vivid colouring making a wonderful display.
Males can grow up to 90 cm in length and weigh 900 -1500g, although they average 1200g. Females are slightly smaller.


: 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. It is most common throughout the Amazon basin.


: These macaws are found in the tropical rainforest canopy and understory. They also inhabit woodlands bordering on rivers, gallery forests in open savanna country and partially cleared deciduous growth. They occur up to elevations of 1,000 metres. Trees are a critical habitat for scarlet macaws as they are for most parrots: living trees supply oil rich kernels of nuts, seeds and berries; older and dead trees supply nesting sites. Both elements must be present in proximity for survival.


: Fruit and nuts encompass most of the diet, supplementing with nectar and flowers when necessary. 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 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.

Reproduction and Development

: Scarlet Macaws form monogamous pair bonds that last for life. Breeding occurs every one to two years, with nesting occurring in solitary pairs. They are not particularly territorial but will defend the immediate vicinity of the nest, which is located in a hollow tree. Nests are very often reused by numerous pairs of birds over time. The entrance just fits the bird’s body; the bottom is lined with wood chips. The female lays two to four eggs, which are round or oval in shape and relatively small for such a large bird. She incubates the eggs, while the male brings food. Eggs hatch after three to four weeks; the young are naked except for some grayish and brownish down. They are fed by regurgitation from the crops of both parents. Infants fledge after eight weeks, but feeding continues in the nest for sometime after this. Young birds may stay with their parents for one to two years. Mature offspring often fly with their parents until complete independence is achieved. Scarlet macaws have an extended period of dependence on their parents, with perhaps some significant learning occurring before they become sexually mature and independent. The parents will not raise another set of eggs until the previous young have become independent. They reach sexual maturity at three or four years of age.


: Parrots have more movement in their beaks than do other birds, which allows for a more powerful bill. They have developed a nut-cracking device of incredible power. Scarlet macaws are able to break open the toughest of nuts 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. 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. The upper mandible is united with the skull by a moveable joint allowing it to move up and down, increasing its crushing power. This arrangement also allows the upper mandible to become a climbing tool or “hand” along with their four-toed feet: typical of parrots, two toes point forward, two aft (zygodactylism) for effective grasping. Toes are also used to carry nuts to the mandibles where they hold the food while it is husked. Macaw tongues are short and muscular, filled with more taste buds than any other bird. A highly muscular gizzard aids in the breaking down of extremely hard vegetable material.

While these birds walk in a waddling fashion, they fly superbly over long distances. Their long tail aids in forest navigation by providing balance, as well as acting as a prop when scarlet macaws venture onto the outer canopy to forage for food.

Threats to Survival

: Forest destruction and poaching of the young for the illegal pet trade.


: IUCN: Least Concern