Scarlet Macaws (Ara Macao) – With a spectacular plumage and an inquisitive nature these birds personify magnificence Macaws are the largest parrots in the world. Their elegance and beauty mesmerizes anyone who sees them. They get their name from the coloring of their feathers. Scarlet macaws also known as red macaws are considered very intelligent and they have the ability to pick up a lot of word when they are trained. They can be wonderful pets but the elegance of these spectacular birds is at its most when they are seen in the wild as they fly freely in flocks adding color to the plain blue sky.

Description

They have an almost featherless creamy white face with most of its body, wings and tail covered in bright red plumage which fetches the magnificence in it. The lower part of its wings are covered in dazzling blue and yellow feathers.

Mother Nature has blessed this rain forest bird with a strong black beak to crush open those hard nuts.The upper part of the beak is light tan and it is black at the tips and base. The legs and feet of the scarlet macaw is also black.

Males and females are somewhat similar and only someone who looks very closely will notice that males have longer feathers and comparatively larger bills. Juvenile red macaws have legs and feet that is greyish in color. This changes over time as they reach adulthood and the feet turn black. They can grow to a length of 31 to 38 inches from beak to tail and weigh between 900g to 1490g. These powerful birds can reach a speed of around 35 miles per hour.

Scarlet macaws are divided into two subspecies which can be differentiated by their size and the color detail in their feathers:

  • Ara macaomacao – They are found in Central Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama in Central America. They also exist in northern and eastern Colombia, Venezuela as well as the Guianas. Moving south, this sub-species of scarlet macaws are also found in eastern Ecuador, the eastern region of Peru and North-eastern Bolivia. The wings of ara macaomacao have a green tip in the medium and secondary coverts.
  • Ara macaocyanopetra – This scarlet macaw species are larger than the ara macaomacao. Their yellow wing feather have blue tips and these macaws have very less or no green color on their feathers. They are usually found in North Central America from the south eastern region of Mexico to Nicaragua.

Geographic Range

These beautiful birds have their natural habitat from eastern Panama which is in Central America and it goes south into the northern areas of South America, East of the Andes, moving into Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay. You can spot Scarlet Macaws most all over the Amazon Basin.
Lately, scarlet macaw species have also been introduced to some urban areas in United States, Europe and Latin America.

Habitat

The Ara Macaws are found high in the canopies of the rainforest habitats below 1,000 m. Some of the scarlet macaws in Costa Rica are found as high up as 1,500m. They are primarily found in tropical evergreen forests and are usually found living near rivers and clearing with big trees.

It has been noted that scarlet macaws may move depending on the changes in the season. They are considered important for the ecosystem in which they live because they help in the generation of forest tree species by predating seeds.

Life Span

The typical life span of a macaw in captivity and in the wild can be up to 40 to 50 years. Macaws have been found to have a life of around 75 years when kept in captivity because of the optimum care they receive from the owners.

One of the reasons why macaws enjoy a longer life in captivity is the fact that they are protected from predation. In the wild, as birds grow old, their agility decreases and this makes them vulnerable to predators who can pick them up easily when they have slowed down because of age.

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Behaviour

 

One of the scarlet macaw interesting facts is that these macaws mostly continue to remain in monogamous pairs throughout their lives but gather in flocks to sleep at night. They are very attached to their mates and once they choose their soulmates they are never seen alone except if one of the birds has to incubate the eggs.

They usually make their nests in the hollow area of the trees. They normally use the upper canopy of the rainforests so that they can be camouflaged in the thick foliage and are safe from their predators like the toucans, snakes, monkey and a few other large mammals. A scarlet macaw if alarmed by something while in its nest, it vigilantly studies the situation till the danger goes away. Macaws silently escape one at a time if their nests are under direct threat.

Another interesting macaw bird facts is that Ara macaws are mostly left footed, they have been observed to use their left foot mostly to handle food or grasp things while they balance their body on their right foot. A macaw’s brain is more developed on the right side over that of left side, hence left footed. The birds left handed condition can be based on the same principle as that of the preferential hand that a human uses.

They are very vocal and are often considered naughty by macaw owners. Their loud voice may discourage owners from keeping them. If you do not like a lot of noise, then the scarlet macaw is probably not the best pet for you.

Scarlet macaws use their beaks extensively in the wild as well as in captivity. They break hard nuts and create cavities with the help of their beaks. In captivity, the beaks are used to chew toys and explore things.

Food Habits

The primary diet of macaws includes fruits, grains and nuts sporadically supplementing with nectar and flowers. Scarlet macaws are in a habit of eating their fruits raw, premature fruits have tough skin and the pulp can be eaten only if a bird has a large and strong beak. The robust beak of the macaws gives them an advantage over the other animals, they can break open nuts and enjoy whilst other animals have access only to the pulp.

Unlike the other birds, parrots have more movement in their beaks making their bills more controlling than the others. The beaks of the Ara Macaws are structured in a way that they can press a hard nut between their tongues and their palates and grind the seed in order to digest it.

They generally feed palm fruits, figs, berries seeds, nuts as well as pods. During the breeding season, when their requirement for protein is high, red macaws may also feed on insects and their larvae. Their diet is often supplemented with the nectar of flower and leaf shoots as well as entire flowers.

The scarlet macaws mostly eat premature fruits. An interesting scarlet macaw facts is that they eat clay found on the banks of the rivers to aid digestion of chemicals like tannin. They have the ability of eating food that can potentially kill other animals because of their poisonous content. However, scarlet macaws use clay to nullify the effect of the poison. The Amazon basin has almost 120 known places where macaws flock to lick clay. Some of these have become popular tourist spots.

Reproduction

The scarlet macaws pair for their entire life. The mating system is termed as monogamous which means that they have only one mate at a time. Red macaw pairs are usually seen together unless they are incubating the eggs. Once the eggs hatch, they will be seen with the chicks.

Scarlet macaws display affection to their mates and chicks through preening. If you see a macaw pair, you will usually find them preening each other and licking them. Another way of showing love is by feeding their mates and chicks.

They breed in approximately one or two years. Breeding season varies in them depending on their location, the monsoons and the availability of food. Scarlet macaws who are found in the southern areas of the range where they belong usually begin breeding in December. Scarlet macaws who nest further north of the range usually begin breeding in towards the end of December and early January. If they are nested in a region where the conditions are optimum, they may be able to breed around the year.

Scarlet macaws are cavity nesters and they look for holes in tall canopy trees which may be alive or dead. Very often they nest in holes which have been excavated by other birds like woodpeckers. Sometimes, they may excavate cavity of their own in soft snags.

The clutch size of the red macaws is about 2 to 4 white eggs. Incubation lasts for 24 to 25 days and is primarily done by the female scarlet macaws. The males usually take up the task of protecting the nest and bringing food.

Once the macaws hatch, they are dependent on their parents and remain with the parents for almost a year or two. The hatchlings are fed by the parents – mainly males – through regurgitation. The scarlet macaws give primary importance to their children and they do not raise another set of eggs till the time the current set of baby macaws are independent and can fend for themselves. Red macaws reach sexual maturity at the age of three or four.

Vocalization

Macaws are considered to very vocal birds. Scarlet macaws use different types of harsh, screeching calls and guttural squawking as well as a type of growl to communicate with other macaws.

Predation

Because of their huge size and ability to fly quickly, scarlet macaws are usually able to escape most of the predators when they are adults. Arboreal predators like monkeys, snakes and other small carnivorous animals may take the young ones from their nests. Scarlet macaws often create a lot of noise when one of the predators try to take away their young ones from the nest. This helps as an alarm for other and may also bring help.

Adult and fledgling scarlet macaws have the fear of being predated by large cats like jaguars and they may also be caught by eagles and hawks.

 

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Conservation Status

Red macaws are losing their habitat because of excessive deforestation. In addition to the threat of losing the forests they inhabit, the macaws are also threatened by the poachers who try to find them out and take away the young ones or fledglings. Poachers also hunt adult scarlet macaws for their meat. They would even cut down the trees where the macaws are nesting so that they can access the nests where the young ones are. As more and more trees are being cut down by the poachers, the scarlet macaws end up losing their homes. As fewer places will remain to breed, there will be a drop in the number of young ones that are raised.

Conservationists are making ceaseless efforts to slow down the decline in the population of scarlet macaws. In 1989, the World Parrot Trust was created. The aim of the organization is to protect parrots in their natural habitat. They have been working endlessly, trying to save the environment in which scarlet macaws exist.

Many poachers hunt down scarlet macaws for their spectacular feathers. Because of this reason, many breeders provide feathers of the birds that they sell so that poaching can be curbed.

The territorial range of scarlet macaws is very large and it is estimated that it covers approximately 6,700,000 km2. However, their habitat is fragmented and the scarlet macaws are mainly limited to small flocks scattered throughout its geographical range in most of Middle America. Their population in South America is larger than most of the other macaw species. This is why it is considered as a species of least concern by IUCN. They are considered endangered by USFWS because of illegal trading.

Scarlet Macaw - Ara macao - Red Macaw
Scarlet Macaw – Ara macao – Red Macaw

Scarlet macaws are beautiful birds, but they require a lot of attention as pets. These birds are best kept by experienced bird owners or those people who have the time and energy to understand these birds and have the eagerness to learn about the scarlet macaws. Owners have to be patient and loving towards these brightly colored birds. They require the right environment and care to grow and live to their expected life term. Knowing scarlet macaw facts will help owners take proper care of the bird.

In their natural habitat, all macaws are used to customizing their environment by chewing on the branches and building nests for their chicks – scarlet macaws are no different. They like to explore their environment and create it in a way that they can live comfortably in that environment. In captivity, they take to their inherent nature of exploring the environment that they live in, be it their cage or their owner’s home, they like to chew on things and explore new things in your house.

A great amount of training and patience is required with the scarlet macaws, so that they can be integrated into the family and develop a behavior which is acceptable in the family they are living in. It is important that these magnificent birds are not limited in a small cage. They must be able to move adequately in their cage, and branches for a perch are very important. Several toys for chewing and a variety of foods keep them happy. They can be a little cranky sometimes, especially during breeding season but with the right amount of care, the scarlet macaws can go through this phase with very less difficulty.

Some red macaws take a liking to just one person who feeds and cares for them, while others may show preferences to a particular gender in humans, this is one of the macaw interesting facts. They can get very noisy at times. Anyone who has seen them in their natural habitat will realize that they are inherently noisy birds who enjoy screeching and squawking to communicate with the rest of the flock. They continue to use their squawks to communicate with their owners and the rest of the family when they are in captivity. If you do not enjoy loud birds, then you should choose a different pet.

They make handsome pets, but they are expensive and keeping them as a pet involves great costs as well – a huge cage, proper food and regular care. So if you can afford a scarlet macaw, tolerate the loud noises it makes and give them utmost attention; these spectacular birds are very sociable and affectionate. In fact, some scarlet macaws can also talk very well.

Daily care of a scarlet macaw includes keeping the cage clean. Ensuring that food and water is not dirty and giving them fresh food items. They should also get regular exercise and time out of their cage. Create a perch in different areas of the house where the macaw can perch and enjoy your company instead of having to be left alone in the cage all the time.
Scarlet macaws can get more aggressive than other macaws and they are not very tolerant of other birds, pets or children.

Diet

Scarlet macaws are avid eaters. They can weigh up to two and a half pounds. A healthy scarlet macaw usually begins its diet with organic pellets. Supplement the pellets with different types of fresh fruits and vegetables. Introduce them to a large variety of foods from young age so that they are not picky about food.

In the wild, scarlet macaws love cracking open nuts and enjoy feeding on nuts and seeds. In captivity, macaws continue to favour nuts and seeds over other foods. However, because of the high content of these foods, owners usually use them for treats and rewards.
Scarlet macaws are susceptible of overgrowing their beaks so give them plenty of toys for chewing to keep the beak to the right size.

Training and Behavioural guidance

Scarlet macaws are often misunderstood by novice owners who may find the bird to be aggressive or loud, but with the right amount of training and care, these birds can be one of the most cuddly and playful pets. People who have owned a scarlet macaw often express the importance of showing affection to them. Scarlet macaws have a short span of attention so it is important for you to keep them busy by providing them an interactive environment with plenty of simulation and entertainment.

They need a nurturing environment so that these macaws do not get nippy. Scarlet macaws respond very well to positive training. With the help of trust training you can be taught to work for food rewards. It is important that owners do not reward their red macaws when they scream. Make sure that you do not encourage this kind of behaviour. However, birds that end up screaming should not be punished by screaming back or yelling at them.

Instead, you must understand this that scarlet macaws generally scream when they are looking for your attention. So instead of giving them attention while they are screaming, give them attention for something else or when they stop screaming. Choose a word with which you can communicate with your scarlet macaw while you are in a different room. So if your macaw starts calling out for you; you can let it know that you are coming so that it does not begin to scream for you.

When scarlet macaws reach sexual maturity, they may get more aggressive and the change in their hormones may lead to mood swings. This is a time when your macaw needs your attention. Do not mistake this as bad behaviour of the bird. The bird is just as confused about the changes taking place inside it and its inherent nature may begin showing signs of breeding which include territorial behaviour and getting protective about their owners or trying to keep their owners away from their territory.

Make sure you read these signs well and use utmost patience and care to handle your macaw at this stage.

Conclusion

Scarlet macaws are awe-inspiring birds who personify magnificence. These birds display a lot of qualities and have the ability to give a lot of love to their owners. There are many Macaw species profiles and the scarlet macaw is considered to be one of the best macaws if you are considering a macaw pet.

Read more:

The history of Macaws as pets
Anatomy of macaw species
The development of macaw species
Senses in macaw species
The natural habitat of macaws
Natural behavior of macaws species

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