Scarlet Macaw Guide (Ara macao)

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Upon any trip to a nearby zoo, chances are you were drawn to an exquisite parrot that looked like your primary color art class project. The thought that this bird exists in nature doesn’t quite cross your mind because you are enamored with its ability to mimic your speech or ask if it knows a pirate. But this bird is much more than a flashy pet or pirate companion.

Ranging across Mexico, Guatemala, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Brazil, it is not hard to tell that these humidity-loving parrots thrive in the rainforest. Scarlet Macaws feature bright red, yellow, and blue plumage that instantly takes your mind to a tropical paradise.

Along with their intensely colored feathers, their large size makes them hard to miss. Macaws are the largest parrots in the world, and the Scarlet Macaw does not disappoint at an impressive 2 pounds and 32 to 39 inches long.


The Scarlet Macaw belongs to the order Psittaciformes, comprised of about 400 species of birds found in tropical and subtropical regions. Out of those three superfamilies, you will discover Psittacidae or parrots, where our beloved Scarlet Macaw is classified.

Scarlet Macaws are members of the genus Ara, which includes two subspecies. These subspecies can be distinguished by their size and color:

  • A. macao macao, or the South American Scarlet Macaw, has green wingtips and can be found from Central Nicaragua to Brazil.
  • A. macao cyanopterus, or the North Central American Scarlet Macaw, is larger and features blue wingtips, hence the cyan in its scientific name.

How to Identify Scarlet Macaw

The Scarlet Macaw deserves an award for being potentially one of the easiest birds to identify. Nonetheless, let’s break down the stunning features of this tropical bird.

Scarlet Macaw Coloring and Features

With mostly scarlet feathers throughout its body, this bird is aptly named. The Scarlet Macaw has a bigger tail than other macaws, and the rump and tail-covert feathers are light blue, while the lower ends of the tail feathers are dark blue. The greater upper wing coverts are yellow, and the upper sides of the wings are dark blue, blending seamlessly with the tail feathers.

The transition of colors from blue to yellow in the wings creates a green or aqua coloring in some. Their tail flight feathers and the underside of their wings are a deep red. The deep red underside of their wings transitions flawlessly to metallic gold.

A Scarlet Macaw has a distinct face with white skin around the eyes, extending to the cheeks and bill. While the white facial skin appears bare, there are small white feathers with very subtle red markings. The Scarlet Macaw is most commonly confused with the green-winged Macaw, which has more distinct red markings on the face and no yellow feathers. As long as you look out for bright yellow feathers on their wings, you can make no mistake that you’ve spotted a Scarlet Macaw.

Their hooked bills are a pale ivory color on top, while their lower mandible is black. Juveniles will have black eyes while adults’ eyes are a distinct light yellow.

Males and females are very similar in appearance. The best distinction between them is the male’s longer feathers and slightly larger bills.

Scarlet Macaw Sounds

If you walk through the rainforest, it won’t be hard to miss the flock of loud Scarlet Macaws. You will most certainly hear them if you do not see them first. They implore various high to low-pitched throaty squawks, guttural screams, honks, and squeaks to communicate with each other. These sounds can be heard from 5 miles away and are most active in the early morning.

Where Does Scarlet Macaw Live Habitat

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Humidity is the name of the game for these diurnal tropical beauties. Their ideal habitat is subtropical rainforests, low-density forests, along rivers, savannas, or mangroves, where they flock together at night.

The South American subspecies of Scarlet Macaws can be found in the Amazon forest, east of the Peruvian Andes and Bolivia. The Aquicuana Reserve is a protected natural reserve in Bolivia, where the species thrives.

The Central American subspecies can be found in eastern and southern Mexico, Panama, Guatemala, and Belize. They are also known inhabitants of isolated regions of Costa Rica along the Pacific Coast.

While some sightings of Scarlet Macaws in Florida have been reported, this is due to the release or escape of captive birds, and there has been no evidence to support breeding.

Scarlet Macaw Sightings

While flocks are sometimes seen, you are most likely to see this vibrantly colored bird flying over the forest on its own or in a pair.

Parrots and macaws of various species gather at clay licks, steep walls of red clay, along the western Amazon Basin. Clay licks are caused by erosion along riverbanks and are used by these birds to supplement a low-sodium diet. This behavior is most commonly observed in Peru at the Tambopata National Reserve. Tambopata, located in southeastern Peru, has the most avian clay licks in the world.

Scarlet Macaw Diet and Feeding

Prodomenentialy sustained on a diet of fruits, nuts, seeds, nectar, and flowers. Wild Scarlet Macaws also seek out insects and larvae for an additional protein boost during breeding periods. The design of their powerful hooked beaks makes hard-to-crack nuts and evasive larvae easy scores. They sandwich these nuts between their tongues and palates to grind and digest the seed.

As Teak trees and Almond Beach trees began being introduced into Central Pacific Costa Rica, Scarlet Macaws quickly became accustomed to feeding on their delectable flowers and seed-like fruit.

They enjoy seeking out unripe fruit since other animals are not usually keen on it or do not have the advantage of a strong beak to access it. Researchers believe that their supplementation of clay within their diet reduces toxins and chemicals present in unripe fruit and makes it safe for them to consume.

Scarlet Macaw Diet and Feeding in Captivity

These kaleidoscopic birds are poplar pets that require a specific dietary regimen. Commercial macaw pellets from brands like Lafeber include human-grade ingredients, antioxidants, essential omegas, and vitamins. They are usually introduced at a young age. Occasional nuts are given as treats, and certain fresh fruit and vegetables are also safe to feed your pet Scarlet Macaw in moderation. Recommended fruits and vegetables include:

  • Carrots
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Broccoli

It is advised to always check with a veterinarian before feeding your Scarlet Macaw any uncertain or diverse types of food.

Scarlet Macaw Breeding

When searching for a mate, males will perform a variety of calls and dances to impress a lucky lady. Once paired, Scarlet Macaws will breed in about one to two years. Their breeding season varies based on their location, weather, and reliability of food sources. While still considering those factors, December to early January is generally when Scarlet Macaws can be found breeding. If they are exceptionally comfortable and experience agreeable weather and food conditions are ideal; they may breed year-round.

When searching for a mate, males, also called cocks, will perform a variety of calls and dances to impress a lucky lady. Once paired, the birds will be monogamous for their entire lives. They are only seen separated while one bird incubates eggs. Affectionate displays and communication between mates come in various behaviors such as cleaning, licking, and feeding each other.

Scarlet Macaw Nesting

Described as cavity nesters, Scarlet Macaws seek out a hole in tall trees that will make the ideal home for raising their growing family. Often, they leave the hard work to other unearthing birds such as woodpeckers and show up once the lease is ready for them.

Scarlet Macaw Eggs

A hen, or female macaw, will lay a clutch of two to four white eggs in her tree cavity nest. It is then her primary role to incubate the eggs for about 25 days. Males will aid this process by providing food and keeping the nest safe from predators.

Once hatched, the male will feed the chicks through regurgitation and are expected to fledge in about 90 days. However, they will stay with their parents for around one year when they have displayed their self-sufficiency. The parents will not produce another set of eggs until this time, mating every one to two years. Talk about a mood-killer!

Scarlet Macaw Population

Luckily, the Scarlet Macaw is listed as the lowest level of concern on the globally threatened bird species scale created by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The wild population is currently estimated to be between 20,000 to 50,000 individuals. However, this doesn’t mean there aren’t significant threats posed to the decreasing Scarlet Macaw population. Keep reading to understand the intricacies of this problem.

Is the Scarlet Macaw Endangered?

The Scarlet Macaw subspecies, Ara macao cyanoptera, is listed as an Endangered Species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This is due to their dwindling numbers throughout Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica, and Panama.

Scarlet Macaws are listed as a Category Two concern on Guatemala’s List of Threatened Species by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), with only 150 to 200 remaining in Guatemala. These remaining birds reside within Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve. Only an estimated 250 wild Scarlet Macaws have been documented living throughout Mexico.

While evidence of the entire Scarlet Macaw population decline is present, this is attributed to the Scarlet Macaws’ wide distribution range since they are present across 16 countries. So while large numbers are seen in South America, in Costa Rica, only two prosperous sub-populations remain there, and they are missing from much of their former range. It is estimated that only 4,000 Scarlet Macaws are present in Central America today.

Is the Scarlet Macaw Extinct?

The Scarlet Macaw is not extinct, but significant threats are present. Sizeable threats to the Scarlet Macaw species include:

  • Deforestation for the use of cattle and agriculture
  • Adult macaw poaching for meat and feathers
  • Chick poaching for the pet bird trade despite legal protections in Costa Rica
  • Limited reproduction habitats due to a lack of ancient trees

Significant efforts are being made to control these threats. The international trade of Scarlet Macaws is banned by CITES. However, illegal capture and poaching persist. The World Parrot Trust, created in 1989, focuses on protecting these birds in their natural habitats. Breeders have begun providing feathers from their birds to reduce poaching for feathers, and artificial cavities and boxes are placed throughout deforested habitats to promote breeding in the wild.

Ecological Importance of the Scarlet Macaw

We rely on several animals like squirrels, lemurs, bears, and birds for seed distribution through their diet. The Scarlet Macaw is no different. They are sustained on a diet of seeds from large tree fruits throughout their habitats. This consumption of these seeds benefits generations of forest tree species.

Captivity of Scarlet Macaws

The Scarlet Macaw was first bred in captivity in the 11th century, and things haven’t slowed down since then. In 2008, an estimated 16 million Americans owned a pet bird. While humans are responsible for much of the species displacement in the wild, breeders will often raise chicks and release them into the wild. This vital work is primarily attributed to the Tambopata Macaw Project.

Scarlet Macaws are popular pets for many reasons. Not only are they stunning to look at, but they have large curious personalities and are very intelligent. Their ability to mimic human speech makes them highly coveted.

While this is a desirable trait for most bird owners, your pet Scarlet Macaw can become a bit of an auditory nuisance without constant training. Their voices can be heard over very long distances, and ample space between you and your neighbors would be a consideration before getting one as a pet.

They enjoy constant interaction and stimulation through learning and playing and require a caretaker who can devote ample space, daily attention, and stimulation. They create close bonds with their owners, and their owner is believed to replace the lifelong mate they take in the wild in captivity. Their long lifespans lead to deep grief if their human mate passes away.

A Scarlet Macaw can harm a human with their powerful beak; because of this, they are not suitable pets to have in a household with children.

Economic Impact of Scarlet Macaws

Throughout the world, Parrots are the most traded bird. A Scarlet Macaw as a pet will cost $2,000 to $3,000, and a breeding pair will run you close anywhere from $4,000 to $6,000. As they only breed every 1 to 2 years, most breeders must own multiple breeding pairs to make a profit.

Scarlet Macaw Habits

Interestingly enough, Scarlet Macaws are seen predominantly using their left foot when handling food and clinging onto things. When doing this, they rely on their right leg to support the weight of their body, about 2.2 lbs.

Their strong beaks are an essential part of their everyday life. Their beaks can act as an additional appendage, from cracking open seeds in the wild to playing with toys and climbing in captivity.

Scarlet Macaw Predators

It is typical behavior for Scarlet Macaws to utilize the upper canopy of the rainforest to camouflage themselves from toucans, snakes, monkeys, and other large mammals. These predators are known to steal eggs or prey on fledgling Scarlet Macaws. When they suspect a threat is present, they will silently observe the situation until the threat has passed or escape silently and one by one if the danger persists.

While other animals like raptors and jaguars pose a hazard to the safety of this brilliant bird, human practices like deforestation and poaching are still classified as the largest threat to their well-being.

Scarlet Macaw Lifespan

A Scarlet Macaw’s lifespan in the wild will range from 40 to 50 years. In captivity, they can live for 75 to 90 years, so if you get one as a pet, be sure to take that into great consideration and always have a plan for the rehoming of your bird in the event of your death. It’s kind of morbid to get a pet and instantly think about it outliving you, but it’s the responsible thing to do.

Scarlet Macaw FAQ

Question: Is the Scarlet Macaw a good pet?

Answer: Scarlet Macaws can be very affectionate pets when they are raised and trained by knowledgeable breeders. Getting any type of Macaw as your first bird is not recommended.
When they are not given the attention and stimulation they require, this bird can prove to be a challenging pet. They live in small flocks and mate for life. They will grow to see their owner as their flockmate or even their life partner. Like in the wild, they are physically affectionate with people they know well and are very comfortable with.

Question: How many Scarlet Macaws are left in the world?

Answer: An estimated 20,000 to 50,000 Scarlet Macaws remain in the wild. They are listed as a species of least concern. However, they are still threatened across much of Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica, Panama, and Guatemala. Deforestation of the rainforest for cattle farming, illegal poaching, and trading pose the largest threats.

Question: Can a Scarlet Macaw talk?

Answer: Yes. Scarlet Macaws can mimic human speech and are capable of learning over 1,000 words, but it is not as skillful as other species of talking parrots.

Question: What is so special about a Scarlet Macaw?

Answer: The Scarlet Macaw is the most colorful out of 17 species of macaws and the largest Neotropical parrot. They are brilliant rainbows that exhibit interesting behaviors like eating clay and mating for life. Their hollow bones allow inflight speeds to reach up to 35 miles per hour.

Research Citations

BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Ara macao. Downloaded from

Mijal, M. (n.d.). Ara Macao (Scarlet Macaw). Retrieved June 12, 2022, from

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