COVER STORY The Great Green (Buffon's) Macaw: The Ambiguous Ara, (Ara ambiguus)



Ara ambiguus, the Great Green or Buffon's macaw probably received that scientific name because way back when (1811, according to the IUCN) people didn't know whether it was really a distinct species from the Military macaw, Ara militaris. They also didn't know their Latin very well, because they initially named it Ara ambigua. But Ara (the genus name for macaw) is masculine, while ambigua is an adjective for a female noun. In 2002 some guys who knew Latin better pointed this out and the name was changed from Ara ambigua to the grammatically correct Ara ambiguus. So now you know!

But the ambiguous ara-henceforth the Buffon's macaw or Great Green macaw-is no longer ambiguous. We do indeed know that it is a species all its own, although probably allopatric (fancy word) with the Military macaw. More on that later. Ornithologists and other scientists or conservationists typically use the name Great Green Macaw, while in aviculture it is usually called the Buffon's Macaw.


The Buffon's macaw is the second largest macaw in the world, surpassed only by the Hyacinth macaw, although some Buffon's individuals may be larger (in weight and/ or physical size) than some Hyacinth individuals. In color, the Hyacinth and the Buffon's would never be confused, but the Buffon's does look quite a bit like the Military to the untrained eye (see

Fig. I). However it is in the Figure 1:Militarymacaw eye that the most definitive

distinction may be made. Both species are basically green (the Buffon's more of a yellow green) with a bare white facial patch with small black feather lines (sometimes partly red) above a large dark grey beak and red feathers on the forehead. A more complete comparison between the two species is given in Table 1. Scattered yellow feathers on the Buffon's body are not uncommon. Scattered maroon (bronze) feathers are also not uncommon, but occasionally birds develop partially maroon feathers over much of their bodies (Fig.2), the reason for which is unknown; but sometimes the feathers revert back to green after a moult.

The Military macaw has a darker wash over its body (darker green rather than yellow green, red on tail feathers rather than redorange), and is noticeably smaller than the Buffon's macaw (Table 1). At least in individuals of these species with origins in Central America, the most obvious distinguishing feature among adults (close up) is in the coloration of the eyes. It was first pointed out by Barbara Gould in the early 19 80s, and a drawing of hers is reproduced in Fig. 3 along with pictures of eyes of an adult Military macaw from Mexico and a Buffon's macaw of probably Nicaraguan heritage. Note the Military eye is yellow around the pupil while the Buffon's pupil has a grey ring separating the yellow of the outer iris. I have seen many Buffon's macaws with this characteristic eye, but...



Abramson,]., Speer,BL, Thomsen,JB. 1995. The Large Macaws: Their Care, Breeding, and Conservaiton. Raintree Publications, Fort Bragg, CA. pp. 8-10.

Angeli,N, Otegui,J, Wood, MA, Gomez-Ruiz, E. 2014. A process to support species conservation planning and climate change readiness in protected areas. Pee4jJ preprints https:l!peerj.coml preprints/492v2.pdf. Downloaded 23 Oct 2014.

Arnd-Verlag. Lexicon of Parrots. Internet version Downloaded Oct 2014.

Barker, DG and TM.2014. The Invisible Ark: In Defense of Captivity.

VPI International, Inc. Available from

Berg, KS, Socola, J and Angel,RR. 2007. Great Green Macaws and the annual cycle of their food plants in Ecuador. J. Field Ornithol. 78(1):1-10.

BirdLife International . 2014. Species factsheet: Ara ambiguus.

Downloaded from on 2020 October 2014.

Buffon's macaw from! Downloaded 16 Oct 2014.

Juniper,T and Parr,M. 1998. Parrots: A Guide to Parrots of the World. Yale University Press, New Haven. Sections on Military Macaw (#213) and Great Green Macaw (#214).

Military macaw from!

Downloaded 16 Oct 2014.

Monge, G., Chassot, 0., Ramirez, 0., Aleman, I. and Figueroa, A. 2010. Censo poblacional durante el periodo reproductivo de la subpoblaci6n de Ara ambiguus en el sureste de Nicaragua y norte de Costa Rica 2009. Zeledonia 14(2): 12-24.

Mueller,M. 2000. Review of the in situ status of the Great Green of Buffon's macaw and the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP). Int. Zoo. Yb., 37: 183-190.

Powell, G., Wright, P., Aleman, U., Guindon, C., Palmenteri, S. and R. Bjork. 1999. Research Findings & Conservation Recommendations for the Great Green Macaw (Ara ambigua) in Costa Rica. Tropical Science Center. San Pedro, Costa Rica. 28 pp. DRAFT

Silhol,S. 2013. International Studbook for the Buffon's Macaw. Pare zooligique des Sables d'Olonne, France. Available along with other documents on the species in Europe from the author at email

US Fish and Wildlife Service. 2012. Endangered and threatened wildlife and plants: Two foreign macaw species. US Fish and Wildlife Service, 50 CFR Part 17, 77 FR 40171 40219. Available from http://www.gpo. go v!fdsyslp kg! FR-2012-07-06/ pdf/2012-16492. pdf.