Scarlet Macaws



There are three probable subspecies of the Scarlet Macaw although only two are recognized at this stage - Ara rnacao macao and Ara macao cyanoptera. The three are visually distinguished by their different wing patterns.

Most commonly seen in captivity is the variety with a very wide band of yellow on the wing and navy blue perimeter and secondary flight feathers. These birds have a more orangered body coloration which fades in intense sunlight. The inferior surface of the primary and secondary flight feathers have red midlines with yellow outer edges.

A second has a very deep red colour which is more colour fast and remains red. These have emerald green on the wing coverts in addition to yellow, with navy primary and secondary flight feathers from a distance, this second type shows almost no yellow on the wing. The inferior surface of the flight feathers are red.

A third is a much larger bird whose navy blue flight feathers are replaced by royal blue. These have royal blue on the lower portion of their yellow wing coverts. In research done at Raintree Macaws in California in the USA, this type of Scarlet was found to be longer than any other macaw, including the Hyacinth. Photographs of my birds of this type accompany this article and are all progeny of birds originally imported into South Africa from Nicaragua.


Ammacao - Costa Rica, Panama and north and east Columbia, east through Venezuela and the Guianas to Central Brazil, and South to Ecuador, east Peru and north east Bolivia

Amcyanoptera - south east Mexico to Nicaragua

Status and Conservation Scarlet Macaws were listed on CITES Appendix I on 1 Aug 1985. Habitat

destruction, poor nest-site availability, trapping for the avicultural trade and for local household pets, as well as hunting for the pot and for feathers for traditional Indian ceremonial dress, all have contributed to the rapid decline in numbers of this macaw. It is now extinct or critically endangered in much of its former Central American range and only reasonably common in the remote areas far away from human disturbance. Conservation initiative in Carara Biological Reserve (CBR), Costa Rica, involves education programs for local communities, visitors, and guards, community development with ecotourism promotion, and ongoing intensive biological study.

Anyone with a serious interest in the macaws should do themselves a favor and buy the superb, definitive book titled, The Large Macaws, cited in the references at the end of this article.

Scarlets often are found in large mixed flocks of Blue and Golds and Green-wingeds out of the breeding season. These large groups provide tourists with lifelong memories as they fly down to the clay river banks in a dazzling display of rainbow colors. It is thought that in eating the clay from these river banks, they detoxify the toxins found in some of the unripened fruits in their diets.

I read a recent posting on the Internet from Dr. Donald Brightsmith (Duke University, Durham, NC). He is soon to be heading into the field again in Costa Rica, to hang artificial nests for a group of recently released Central American Scarlet Macaws in the Curu Refuge on the Pacific Coast. It is hoped that this released group will form another self-sustaining population of this endangered subspecies of Scarlet. Donations to this project and the other outstanding work that he is doing, must surely be one way in which aviculturists the world over can play a decisive role in supporting the preservation of these magnificent creatures.


Character and Personality

As with everything, there is always the exception but on the whole I would not recommend the Scarlets as pets or companion birds. They are not generally as trustworthy as the handraised Green-winged or Blue and Gold and can be absolutely spiteful at times.

Some may jump to their defense at this accusation, but those who have had the opportunity to have a number of the large macaws as pets will agree that the Scarlet does not rate very highly on the loyalty stakes. Many devoted owners have had sudden non-voluntary, painful reconstructive procedures, normally involving the lips, nose and ears' Give me a handraised Greenwing any day. I have clients whose four-year old kids push the Scarlets around in prams, and who play housey-housey under the duvet with them for hours on end, all with total immunity from the massive mandible. Scarlets are uncannily like your average cat in that way - friendly when it most suits them'

With bonded adult pairs there is always the strong bond as seen with the other macaws hut there are periodic arguments. Again this varies from pair to pair, and handraised pairs are more prone to this trait than parentraised pairs. There are bouts of bickering that can turn into full-scale war at the slightest provocation. Any attention from the keeper can cause instant jealousy and often the result is a scrap. Serious injury is uncommon but quite a few of my more temperamental pairs occasionally lose a few feathers in these domestic...



Del Hoyo j.,Elliott, A & Sargatal, j.eds. ( 1997).

Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol 4 Sandgrouse to Cuckoos. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

J Abramson., B.L. Speer, J.B. Thompsen, (1995)

The Large Macaws Their Care, Breeding and Conservation Rainrrce Publications. Fort Bragg . California.

Avizandum. Vol 12 No 3 April 2000