Outforia Quicktake: Key Takeaways
- Macaws, known for their stunning, vibrant feathers, are a type of true parrots with at least 19 recognized types, though some are extinct.
- These birds are native to Central and South America, with some species previously found in Mexico and the Caribbean.
- Macaw populations are threatened by habitat loss, climate change, and the illegal pet trade.
- Macaws are social, intelligent birds and known for their bright colors and complex behaviors.
- Several conservation programs have been launched to protect macaws, though many still face the threat of extinction.
Macaws are true parrots, best known for their bold and beautifully colored feathers. There are at least 19 types of macaws, but some of them are extinct.
Habitat loss, climate change, and the illegal pet trade are major factors negatively impacting macaw populations.
Most types of macaws live in Central and South America, but some species occur in Mexico. Some extinct species used to live on the Caribbean islands.
Types of Macaws
Macaws are a part of the order Psittaciformes, which includes hundreds of species of parrots split into four families.
Macaws fall under the family Psittacidae. It’s one of the three families that includes true parrot species. The family is divided into two subfamilies, which include New World and Old World parrots.
Macaws are New World neotropical parrots in the subfamily Arinae. This subfamily is further divided into different tribes and genera. The tribe Arini includes macaws and parakeets.
There are 19 macaw species recognized, but a few species no longer exist in the wild or are extinct. Each of the 19 types of macaws is split into six genera. Hybridized species have been bred for the pet trade.
Macaws are known for their bright, colorful feathers and complex behaviors. They’re social birds that love to communicate. Most types of macaws are found in Central and South America.
1. Hyacinth Macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus)
The hyacinth macaw is a vulnerable species native to semi-open habitats in southern Central America and South America.
It’s the largest of all macaw species. Hyacinth macaws can reach up to 39 inches (100 cm) in length, including the tail, and weigh up to 3.7 pounds (1.7 kg).
Hyacinth macaws have deep royal blue feathers with bright yellow coloring around the beak and eyes.
Their large beak is strong, which helps them crack open hard nuts and seeds. Much of their diet consists of various types of palm nuts, which provide them with essential nutrients and fat. Their diet influences their range.
The large tropical wetland region called the Pantanal that covers parts of Bolivia, Brazil, and Paraguay is an important habitat for hyacinth macaws. Most of the hyacinth population is found there.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) last assessed the species in 2016. The IUCN estimated that about 4,300 individuals were left in the wild, with a decreasing population trend.
2. Blue-and-Yellow Macaw (Ara ararauna)
The blue-and-yellow macaw is easily recognizable for its bright blue feathers on its back and wings. It has bright yellow feathers on its stomach and chest.
The throat is black, and the top of the head has greenish-blue feathers. The face is white, with black streaks above the cheeks.
Blue-and-yellow macaws are popular in the pet trade due to their intelligence and social behavior.
Macaws are high-maintenance pets that require a lot of time for care. If not properly cared for, parrots can easily become stressed and unhappy.
Some states have restrictions on owning certain parrot species, especially if they’re endangered.
According to the IUCN, the blue-and-yellow macaw is of least concern, but its population is decreasing. One of its biggest threats is the pet trade.
3. Red-and-Green Macaw (Ara chloropterus)
The red-and-green macaw lives in South America, from the east Andes mountain range across the Amazon Basin into parts of Bolivia, Brazil, and Paraguay.
The largest concentration of red-and-green macaws occurs around the border of the Amazon.
Other populations occur as far south as Argentina due to introduction. These birds were also introduced to the Caribbean islands, including the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Puerto Rico.
Red-and-green macaws prefer tropical evergreen forests and lowland forest habitats. Populations in the southernmost portion of their range occur in open habitats.
Compared to other macaw species, the red-and-green macaw is fairly abundant. Their conservation status was last assessed in 2020 as least concern. It’s estimated that 50,000 to 500,000 individuals exist throughout their range.
4. Spix’s Macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii)
The Spix’s macaw is a rare macaw species that was close to extinction in the wild upon its discovery in the 19th century. In 2019, the IUCN declared it to be extinct in the wild. The blue-feathered macaw once populated Bahia, Brazil.
Efforts were made to repopulate the species in the 1990s when a female was released from captivity to pair with the only male known to exist in the wild.
However, the female went missing at the release site, and it’s unclear what happened to her.
Captive-bred Spix’s macaws were prepared for reintroduction to Bahia in 2020. The Brazilian government and the Association for Conservation of Threatened Parrots (ACTP) coordinated the captive breeding program.
The extinction of the Spix’s macaw became a popular topic upon the release of the film Rio in 2011. The storyline of the film displays some truth to the real-life story of Spix’s macaw conservation journey.
As of 2022, the Spix’s macaw reintroduction program in Bahia has remained successful. The captive-bred birds that were released in their natural range have survived.
If the reintroduction program continues to be successful, it’s possible that the Spix’s macaw could make a comeback and no longer be classified as extinct in the wild.
5. Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao)
The scarlet macaw is one of the most recognizable parrots in the world. It has bright red plumage on its back, stomach, head, and chest. It has yellow and blue feathers on the lower half of its wings.
Scarlet macaws are fairly abundant and of least concern. It’s estimated that there are 50,000–500,000 individuals left in the wild.
The scarlet macaw’s range stretches from southern Mexico south to Central and South America. A subspecies, Ara macao cyanoptera, occurs in northern Central America. It’s most abundant in the Amazon Basin.
Scarlet macaws live in the canopy of rainforests. They like to eat unripe and ripe fruits, nuts, and sometimes flowers and nectar.
Scarlet macaws are listed as an Appendix I species on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) list.
Appendix I species receive the most protection because they’re considered the most endangered. International trade of Appendix I species is prohibited.
Despite these restrictions, scarlet macaws are still captured illegally and bred for the pet trade. Breeders sell scarlet macaws for thousands of dollars, which encourages illegal capture and trade to continue.
6. Chestnut-Fronted Macaw (Ara severus)
The chestnut-fronted macaw, also called the severe macaw, is a type of mini-macaw.
Small macaw species less than 18 inches (46 cm) in length are considered mini-macaws. These macaws reach up to 18 inches, so they’re one of the largest mini-macaw species.
Severe macaws sport mostly green feathers with some red and blue feathers that peek out from the underside of their wings. A small patch of chestnut-brown feathers is located above the beak.
Severe macaws live in semi-open habitats with scattered trees and along rainforest edges.
The northern portion of their range begins in Panama, Central America, and extends south to Bolivia and the Pantanal. Although they are fairly common throughout their range, the illegal pet trade poses a threat to populations.
7. Great Green Macaw (Ara ambiguus)
The great green macaw is one of the largest macaw species. It can reach up to 3.5 pounds (1.6 kg) and 35 inches (90 cm) in length.
Great green macaws are critically endangered. Only about 500–1,000 individuals are left in the wild based on the IUCN’s last assessment in August 2020.
Some of the biggest threats to the great green macaw population include:
- Deforestation for agricultural land use
- Illegal pet trade
- Residential and commercial development
The species was classified as vulnerable in 2000. It’s been classified as endangered since 2005.
Conservation efforts have been made through various programs, such as the Great Green Macaw Project by Parrot International, to protect the species.
8. Lear’s Macaw (Anodorhynchus leari)
The Lear’s macaw has a similar appearance to the hyacinth macaw due to the color of its plumage. The range and vibrancy of their feathers help to distinguish the two.
The feathers of Lear’s macaws are less vibrant than those of hyacinth macaws. The Lear’s macaw also has a smaller range.
Lear’s macaws, also called indigo macaws, are restricted to the northeastern portion of the State of Bahia in Brazil. They’re pretty rare in their range, with less than 1,000 individuals known to exist in the wild.
The Lear’s macaw population has increased. It used to be critically endangered from 2000 to 2008. It has since been classified as endangered.
9. Military Macaw (Ara militaris)
Military macaws are found in lowland forests and semi-open and open habitats. Their range extends from Mexico south to Argentina in South America.
Populations are very fragmented throughout their range.
Military macaws are mostly bright green, with a red patch of feathers on the head and blue and red feathers on the wings and tail.
This medium-sized macaw ranges from 27 to 30 inches (69 to 76 cm) and can weigh up to 2.5 pounds (1.1 kg).
The military macaw population was assessed as vulnerable by the IUCN in 2020. It’s estimated that 2,000–7,000 individuals are left in the wild. Major threats to the species include habitat loss and domestic trade.
10. Red-Shouldered Macaw (Diopsittaca nobilis)
There are two species of red-shouldered macaw. The northern red-shouldered macaw is found in northern South America in Venezuela and along the coasts of Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana.
The southern red-shouldered macaw (Diopsittaca cumanensis) lives in the southeastern half of Brazil and part of Bolivia.
Two subspecies are recognized, which include the Hahn’s macaw and the noble macaw. Both red-shouldered macaw species have stable populations.
The red-shouldered macaw is a type of mini-macaw because it averages about 12–14 inches (30–35 cm) in length. Due to their small size, red-shouldered macaws are commonly bred in captivity for the pet trade.
These macaws are named for the red feathers on their shoulders. The rest of their feathers are green. Some individuals have turquoise feathers on top of their heads.
11. Blue-Winged Macaw (Primolius macarana)
The blue-winged macaw is a near-threatened macaw species native to South America. Its historic range included most of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina.
It’s now thought to be extinct in the wild in Argentina and the Brazilian states of Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina. The Paraguayan population is considered critically endangered.
According to the IUCN’s last assessment in 2016, there are about 1,500–7,000 individuals left in the wild.
Blue-winged macaws are mini-macaws that average about 16.8 inches (43 cm) in length. They’re named for the blue feathers on their wings. The rest of their body is mostly green.
12. Glaucous Macaw (Anodorhynchus glaucus)
The glaucous macaw is a very rare and critically endangered species. It’s possibly extinct in the wild. It’s estimated that 0–20 individuals are left. Small, fragmented populations may live in northern Argentina, southern Paraguay, northeastern Uruguay, and Brazil.
The yatay palm is an essential part of the glaucous macaw’s habitat. Deforestation and urbanization have led to the loss of yatay palms in their range and contributed to their decline.
In 1999, a team of conservationists and ornithologists sent by the World Parrot Trust surveyed the glaucous macaw’s range in Brazil.
The team had no luck finding any individuals, which suggests that the bird may no longer occur in the wild or within its historic range.
13. Golden-Collared Macaw (Primolius auricollis)
Also known as the yellow-collared macaw, the golden-collared macaw is native to South America. It mainly lives in the Pantanal region of Brazil. Smaller populations occur in northern Argentina, Bolivia, and Paraguay.
They prefer semi-open and open habitats, including grasslands and savannas with scattered trees.
Golden-collared macaws are about 15 inches (38 cm) in length, making them a mini-macaw species.
The golden-collared macaw is considered fairly common throughout its range. Its population is believed to be increasing based on the IUCN’s last assessment of the species in 2016.
14. Red-Bellied Macaw (Orthopsittaca manilata)
Found in the Amazon Basin of South America, the red-bellied macaw is a fairly common species.
Although its population is threatened by the pet trade and deforestation of palm trees in its habitat, these macaws aren’t considered to be at risk of extinction.
Red-bellied macaws usually grow to be around 18 inches (46 cm) in length. They’re one of the largest mini-macaw species.
These macaws love to snack on the common Amazon fruit called buriti. The buriti fruit is essential to their diet because these fruits can be found during the dry season when other food sources are less common.
Buriti comes from the moriche palm, which is also important to these macaws for nesting.
15. Blue-Headed Macaw (Primolius couloni)
The blue-headed macaw is a mini-macaw that lives in the southwestern portion of the Amazon and in Peru and Bolivia. They’re primarily arboreal. They prefer evergreen forests with a humid climate and semi-open areas near rivers.
These macaws get their name from the blue feathers on their heads. Their bodies are mostly green, with some blue on their wings.
Some macaw species travel in flocks of up to 30 individuals, but blue-headed macaws usually travel in pairs or groups of four. Macaws are monogamous birds that stay with one mate for life.
The blue-headed macaw has been listed as vulnerable by the IUCN since 2009.
Despite making a comeback from being endangered between 2005 and 2008, its population is now decreasing. It’s estimated that there are less than 46,000 individuals left in the wild.
16. Blue-Throated Macaw (Ara glaucogularis)
The blue-throated macaw lives in the tropical Beni savanna in northern Bolivia. This critically endangered species was once thought to be extinct in the wild, but it’s estimated that about 350–450 individuals remain.
Blue-throated macaws rely on the palm trees found in the Beni savanna for habitat and food. They mainly eat palm fruits, nuts, and seeds. The palm trees throughout their range are also essential nesting sites.
At first glance, the blue-throated macaw looks similar to the blue-and-yellow macaw. The blue feathers on the blue-throated macaw’s throat and slightly less vibrant blue plumage on its back and wings serve as indicators of its identity.
17. Red-Fronted Macaw (Ara rubrogenys)
The red-fronted macaw is a mostly green parrot with vibrant red feathers on its head and shoulders. The lower portion of its wings and tail feathers are bluish-green.
Red-fronted macaws are critically endangered throughout their range. It’s estimated that less than 272 individuals are left in the wild as of 2021.
Its range is limited to a small region in the inter-Andean valleys of south-central Bolivia.
These macaws like to eat the fruits of cacti in their dry scrub forest habitat. Red-fronted macaws face many threats, including agricultural development, capture for the pet trade, and wood harvesting.
To protect the species, the American Bird Conservancy and the Asociación Armonía partnered to create a 120-acre nature reserve.
18. Cuban Macaw (Ara tricolor)
The Cuban macaw, or Cuban red macaw, was a vibrantly colored bird that resembled the scarlet macaw. The species once lived in western and central Cuba but went extinct in the mid-19th century.
It lived in forested and open habitats with palm trees. Their range was limited to lowlands with palm trees that had narrow trunks used for nesting sites.
According to the IUCN, Cuban macaws went extinct mainly due to hunting for food and capture for the pet trade. Poachers often cut down the trees this species depended on to take babies for the pet trade.
19. Saint Croix Macaw (Ara autocthones)
The Saint Croix macaw is an extinct species that was discovered on the Caribbean islands of St. Croix and Puerto Rico.
A live individual was never spotted. The only reason we know it exists is due to the findings of its remains on these islands.
It was first described in 1937 when a leg bone was found on St. Croix.
It’s unknown whether the St. Croix macaw was native to the Caribbean islands or brought there for the pet trade. It’s also unclear when the species went extinct.
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There are multiple “hypothetical” macaws that are believed to have once lived on the Caribbean islands. These types of macaws are referred to as hypothetical extinct macaws because their existence is largely up for debate.
There’s not enough evidence or documentation to determine whether they were actually distinct macaw species that lived on the islands. Some hypothetical macaw species include:
- Martinique macaw
- Lesser Antillean macaw
- Jamaican green-and-yellow macaw
- Jamaican red macaw
- Dominican green-and-yellow macaw
The only evidence that these macaws existed is based on accounts by various people who described the species. It’s also possible that some of the hypothetical extinct species were mistaken for other types of macaws.
There are several conservation organizations and programs dedicated to macaws.
Many types of macaws are facing the threat of extinction, mainly due to human activities. More than half of the living macaw species are at risk of extinction, while others are still considered fairly common.
Major threats to macaw populations include:
- Agricultural development (land clearing, livestock grazing)
- Illegal capture for the pet trade
- Climate change
Some macaw species, such as the Spix’s macaw, have been pushed to the brink of extinction. There are several macaw species that have already gone extinct due to habitat loss and the illegal pet trade.
The Spix’s macaw is somewhat of a success story considering the comeback it’s made thanks to captive breeding and reintroduction conservation programs. However, protecting macaws is a constant fight due to the numerous threats they face in the wild.
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Do Macaws Make Good Pets?
Although some macaw species are fairly common or abundant, the pet trade is one of the biggest threats to all types of macaws. Poachers often destroy essential parts of macaw habitat to get to the young birds to sell in the pet trade.
Some macaws are bred in captivity and sold legally in the pet trade. However, it can be difficult to determine where the birds actually come from.
It’s also important to consider how macaws can be affected by living in captivity.
These are a few reasons why macaws don’t make good pets for most people:
- Some macaw species are illegal to own, depending on the location.
- Many macaws sold in the pet trade are taken illegally.
- Macaws are very social and intelligent birds that require a lot of attention.
- Macaws get stressed out easily and can become destructive if they don’t receive proper care.
- Macaws aren’t beginner pets and should only be owned (legally) by highly experienced bird owners, or aviculturists.
Many states have restrictions when it comes to owning, breeding, and selling any type of parrot. Parakeets are a very common type of pet parrot in the US.
You can often find parakeets and other parrots, such as cockatiels, in pet stores.
Parakeets are generally considered “beginner” pets for aspiring bird owners. However, they still require a lot of maintenance and careful handling.
What’s the Difference Between a Macaw vs Parrot?
Macaws are one of many types of parrots. All parrots fall under the order Psittaciformes.
There are more than 350 different types of parrots. Macaws belong to the true parrot family, Psittacidae. Many parrots have vibrant feathers and unique color patterns.
All parrots live in subtropical and tropical regions around the world. Most macaws are found in Central and South America. Some live in Mexico and on the Caribbean islands.
The hyacinth macaw is the largest of all parrot species. The smallest parrots in the world are pygmy parrots. Pygmy parrots are usually no more than 4 inches (10 cm) in length, including the tail.
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Interesting Facts About Macaws
Macaws live in pairs.
Macaws are very social birds capable of bonding and forming close connections. They’re monogamous, which means they find a mate and stay with them for life.
Macaws will sometimes feed and travel in larger groups of up to 30 individuals. When it’s time to rest for the night, most macaws split off from their group and sleep with their mate.
Macaws can live up to 50 years or more.
Macaws have a pretty long lifespan. Their lifespan can depend on the species, but most live at least 50 years.
Where they live can also influence the length of their lifespan. Some macaws may live longer in captivity. This is another reason why macaws aren’t great pets for many people as they’re a serious commitment.
Macaws can talk.
Macaws are very vocal birds, known to squawk loudly. Due to their larger size, macaws are louder than many other types of parrots.
Macaws are highly intelligent and can learn human words. They may learn how to associate words with different situations, but they can’t necessarily understand what the words actually mean.
Macaws can use human language because they mimic. They can also mimic different sounds, such as a dog barking.
Macaws have very strong beaks.
Macaws need their large, powerful beaks to open various hard nuts essential to their diet.
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Are macaws friendly?
Macaws are social birds and are generally very friendly towards other macaws in their flock. Highly experienced bird owners often enjoy having macaws as pets because of their companionship.
If macaws receive proper care and attention in captivity, they can actually be quite affectionate. However, treatment is an important factor.
Macaws that are treated poorly may act out and show signs of aggression due to a lack of stimulation and trust.
Why are macaws so rare?
Macaws face many threats in the wild, which is why they’re so rare. Some species only have a few hundred individuals or less left in the wild.
There are macaws that were once thought to be extinct in the wild because they hadn’t been spotted in decades.
Macaws can be hard to find in the wild because many species have a small population and live high in the canopy.
What is the rarest bird in the world?
Critically endangered macaws are some of the rarest birds in the world. Some species, such as the glaucous macaw, are so rare that it’s unknown whether they exist in the wild.
Aside from macaws, one of the rarest birds in the world is the Stresemann’s bristlefront. It’s a type of perching bird native to a very small area in Bahia, Brazil.
Since its rediscovery in 1995, there have only been a few sightings of the species. The IUCN has listed it as critically endangered, and there are reportedly less than 50 of them left.
Only one individual was found in its historic range after an extensive search was conducted in 2018.