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28 Scarlet Macaw Facts (Ara macao) Guide to Both Subspecies

Posted in: Ecuador Animals, Ecuador Travel, Ecuador’s Amazon Jungle

The scarlet macaw is famous for its appearance, intelligence and personality. But how much do you know about the scarlet macaw? In this post, you’ll learn about their habitat, diet, speaking ability, and how to tell them apart. Plus lots more. Lets get started!

scarlet macaw facts

Travel tip: If you’re traveling to the Amazon, you should bring a camera with a good zoom and a decent pair of binoculars. This will increase the odds of spotting and shooting macaws in the jungle.

Scarlet Macaw Overview

  • Latin name: Ara macao
  • Range: Central and South America
  • Population Status: Least Concern
  • Size: Length: 33 to 36 inches (84 to 91 cm); Weight: 2 to 2.5 pounds (1 to 1.13 kg)
  • Wingspan: 3 feet (1 m)
  • Diet: Fruits, seeds, nuts, berries, insects and clay
  • Physical features (Or bizarre facts): Colorful and intelligent
  • Where it lives in Ecuador: Ecuador Amazon rainforest, including the clay licks in Yasuni National Park.
scarlet macaw habitat

28 Facts about Scarlet Macaws

1. Where does the scarlet macaw live?

Scarlet macaws are native to Central and South America. Their range extends from eastern Mexico through Belize and Guatemala to the Amazon region of Colombia, Brazil, Peru and Ecuador.

Additionally, there is a population of scarlet macaws that has been breeding in the USA state of Florida since the 1980s, but these birds are nonnative to Florida and most likely were pets that were either released or escaped.

2. What is the habitat of the scarlet macaw?

Scarlet macaws prefer the habitat of humid evergreen rainforests where they can often be seen flying above the canopy in either pairs or family groups.

They are also seen hanging out in noisy groups in tall, deciduous trees near rivers and gatherings at clay licks, which often pose as tourist destinations for Amazon rainforest tours.

3. Where do scarlet macaws nest?

Scarlet macaws like making their nests in tree hollows that formed naturally or were created by other larger birds.

They also prefer their nests to be high up above the forest floor.

4. What does the scarlet macaw look like?

You can easily spot this beautiful bird by its brilliant plumage. The scarlet macaw is mostly bright red on its head, shoulders and long tail with yellow on its wings and dark blue on its rump.

The bird’s bill and face around the eye are white. Both the male and female look alike.

The main difference between an adult and a juvenile is that the former has yellow eyes and the latter has dark eyes.

The scarlet macaw is one of the world’s largest parrots, growing to an average length of 35 inches (90 cm) and weighing around 2 to 2.5 pounds (1.13 kg) with a wingspan of about 3 feet (1 m).

scarlet macaw colors feathers

5. How did the scarlet macaw get its name?

Carl Linnaeus (the Swedish botanist, physician, zoologist and naturalist) officially named and described the scarlet macaw in 1758.

I guess it goes without saying that its bright red feathers played a pretty important role in its name.

6. How strong is the scarlet macaw?

You may be surprised to learn just how strong the scarlet macaw is! It has a mighty beak that it uses for climbing as well as crushing seeds and hard-shelled nuts.

The scarlet macaw also uses its stout, flexible toes to grab things, and its wide, powerful wings enable it to fly up to 35 miles per hour.

7. Are scarlet macaws friendly or aggressive?

In their native habitat, scarlet macaws are usually friendly with one another, hanging out in family groups and clay licks together.

During the breeding season (between October and April), they can behave aggressively toward other adults that flirt with their mates or when protecting their nests.

Pet scarlet macaws in captivity are friendly and affectionate if they have owners who spend plenty of time with them on a daily basis, stimulating them by playing learning games and socializing with them.

8. How long do scarlet macaws live?

In the wild, scarlet macaws can live between 40 and 50 years.

In captivity, they can live between 75 and 90 years. This means, if you plan to own a pet scarlet macaw, you should be prepared to enjoy a lifelong commitment to one of these birds.

9. What eats a scarlet macaw? Predators and Threats

In the Amazon rainforest, natural predators such as snakes, monkeys, jaguars, eagles and hawks will eat a scarlet macaw or its chicks and eggs.

However, the main threats to the scarlet macaw are human-related and include habitat loss due to deforestation and trapping for illegal wildlife trading.

10. Are scarlet macaws extinct?

One scarlet macaw species, the Cuban macaw (Ara tricolor), is extinct, and the Spix’s macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii) is considered extinct from the wild.

But the Ara macao (the focus of this post) is not extinct.

Unfortunately, the Ara macao is in danger of becoming extinct in some locations such as Mexico, Costa Rica, Belize and Panama. So far, the scarlet macaw population remains stable in the Amazon region of South America.

11. Is the scarlet macaw endangered?

No, the scarlet macaw is not considered endangered.

While its numbers are diminishing in some places such as Mexico and Central American countries, the scarlet macaw population thrives in South America. Because of this, the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) classifies this species as Least Concern.

12. What do scarlet macaws eat?

Like many other parrots, scarlet macaws primarily eat seeds, nuts, fruits, flowers and leaf shoots. They will also eat insects, snails and larvae, especially during the breeding season when they require extra protein in their diet.

Additionally, scarlet macaws are often seen in large groups near riverbanks eating clay. It is believed that they do this to counteract toxins found in plants and fruits that are routine to their diet.

13. How do scarlet macaws hunt?

Scarlet macaws don’t actually hunt. They’re diurnal birds, meaning they sleep at night and are active during the day.

Early in the morning, they usually fly out (sometimes long distances) to forage for fruits, seeds, nuts, insects, snails and larvae.

14. What is the scarlet macaws Latin name?

  • Class: Aves (birds)
  • Order: Psittaciformes (parrots)
  • Family: Psittacidae (parrots, cockatoos, and relatives)
  • Subfamily: Psittacinae (parrots, parakeets, macaws, and relatives)
  • Genus: Ara (macaws)
  • Species: A. macao
Ara macao

15. Scarlet macaw subspecies

There are two subspecies of scarlet macaw:

  • Ara macao macao (has green wingtips and from Central Nicaragua to Brazil)
  • Ara macao cyanoptera (larger in size and from North Central America)

16. What other names does the scarlet macaw have?

These beautiful birds are sometimes called by other names that reflect their bright colors such as:

  • Red-breasted macaws
  • Red-yellow-and-blue Macaws

17. Do scarlet macaws mate for life?

Yes, scarlet macaws mate for life, meaning they form long-term bonds and raise chicks together through successive nesting seasons. These macaws tend to take relationships and family seriously.

Monogamous pairs enjoy spending time together, sharing food and preening one another. They’re also devoted parents as you can read about in the following facts.

18. At what age do scarlet macaw lay eggs?

Scarlet macaw females begin to lay eggs when they are sexually mature which is around 4 or 5 years of age.

They will lay between one and four white eggs per nesting season (once a year or every other year from October to April). The female sits on the eggs to incubate them, and they hatch between 25 and 28 days later.

Scarlet macaw parents are dedicated to their young. They both will share in feeding the chicks by regurgitating food to them and will spend up to a year (or more!) teaching the juveniles to fly and forage for food. They will not mate again until their current offspring become independent.

19. What is the scarlet macaw’s call?

Scarlet macaws boast the ability to mimic a wide variety of sounds including human speech, but their main call is a loud, raucous rraahh sound. You can hear them make this call in the wild and in captivity.

20. Are scarlet macaws loud?

Yes, scarlet macaws are loud. They love being heard.

In the wild, they can honk, squawk, and even scream loud enough to be heard miles away.

If you plan to have a pet scarlet macaw, you should know that they can get loud sometimes because not only is this how they communicate, but they also love getting attention this way.

21. Do scarlet macaws carry disease?

Yes, unfortunately, scarlet macaws (and other macaws) are prone to some diseases such as:

  • Psittacosis (also called parrot fever): Caused by bacteria that infect birds, animals and humans. Symptoms are similar to influenza.
  • Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD): Caused by a virus that impairs the immune system and affects the cells making up the feathers and beak
  • Avian Bornaviral Ganglioneuritis (PDD): A species-specific disease caused by a virus and affects the gastrointestinal tract and central nervous system

Scarlet macaw and other macaws can also develop the following illnesses:

  • Feather plucking
  • Chronic sinus infections
  • Macaw acne
  • Herpes Infections
  • Aspergillosis (fungal disease)

22. Where can I see the scarlet macaw?

There are plenty of places where you can see scarlet macaws. If you want to see them in the wild, you’ll need to travel to Central or South America where you can see them in places like the Carara National Park and the Osa Peninsula in the Corcovado National Park of Costa Rica.

Clay licks in South America are excellent places to see hundreds of macaws at once in the wild. Some of the best clay clicks are found in Yasuni National Park (Ecuador) and Manu National Park and the Tambopata National Reserve (both in Peru).

You can also see scarlet macaws in captivity by visiting zoos such as the San Diego Zoo, Cincinnati Zoo, and St. Louis Zoo in the USA. The Belize Zoo, the Australia Zoo, and the ZSL Whipsnade Zoo in the UK are other zoos that house these beautiful birds.

In the wild, these birds may behave shy and keep a distance from humans, but in captivity, they are friendly and familiar with people.

23. Do scarlet macaws make good pets?

Scarlet macaws make great pets for the right kind of owners. If you don’t like a lot of noise, or if you work long hours and don’t have much time to spend socializing with this bird, the scarlet macaw is probably not a good pet for you.

The scarlet macaw is an intelligent bird that can learn to talk and identify colors and shapes as well as follow some commands.

They have lively personalities, and their funny antics will keep you constantly entertained. However, they do require daily attention and care just like you would give to a child.

24. How much does a scarlet macaw cost?

Depending on where you buy a scarlet macaw, the price can range anywhere from $1500 to $3,000. Factors such as the bird’s age and its ability to talk can affect the price.

25. Is it legal to buy a scarlet macaw?

Yes, it is legal to buy a scarlet macaw (and other macaws) as long as you buy it from a reputable source who has proper documentation to show that the parrot was bred legally and not stolen or imported from the wild.

26. Can macaws talk?

Yes, macaws can talk by mimicking human speech, and blue-and-gold macaws boast the reputation of learning phrases more easily than other macaws. If you want your scarlet macaw to learn to talk, it will require patience and time.

You’ll need to practice tricks such as:

  • Repeating simple words frequently
  • Offering treats
  • Associating words and phrases with objects and actions
types of macaws

27. How many species of macaws are there?

There are currently 16 living species of macaws. They are as follows:

  1. Scarlet macaw
  2. Hyacinth macaw
  3. Lear’s macaw
  4. Great green macaw
  5. Blue-and-green macaw
  6. Green-winged macaw
  7. Blue-throated macaw
  8. Military macaw
  9. Red-fronted macaw
  10. Chestnut-fronted macaw (also called Severe macaw)
  11. Red-bellied macaw
  12. Blue-headed macaw
  13. Blue-winged macaw
  14. Golden-collared macaw
  15. Red-shouldered macaw
  16. Glaucous macaw (critically endangered or extinct)
16 macaw species

28. Scarlet Macaw vs Red-and-Green Macaw (Differences)

At first, these two species look the same. Both are bright red, especially the breast. But here are a few key differences.

  • Red-and-green macaws have tiny rows of feathers around the eyes – forming fine red lines.
  • Scarlet macaws have a mostly yellow band of yellow on the uppper wing covert. In contrast, red-and-green macaws are mostly green, possibly with a few yellow feathers.
  • When side by side, the red-and-green macaw is noticably larger than the scarlet macaw.

The red-and-green macaw is also known as the green-winged macaw.

More reading: Guide to Ecuador’s Amazon Rainforest Animals

jungle birds

Scarlet macaw with other jungle birds.

Your Turn

Now that you’ve learned about scarlet macaws, would you like to see one in the wild? Have you see one at a zoo or maybe on a jungle trip?

Do you have questions not answered in this post? We would love to hear from you in the comment section.

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Meet the Author

Bryan Haines is co-editor of GringosAbroad - Ecuador's largest blog for expats and travelers. He is a travel blogger and content marketer. He is also co-founder of ClickLikeThis (GoPro tutorial blog) and Storyteller Media (content marketing for travel brands). Work with GringosAbroad.

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