Macaws Macaws

Scientific Classification

Common Name
Psittacidae (true parrots)
Genus Species
Most are Ara (macaw) spp.; also Anodorhynchus spp., Cyanopsitta spp., and Propyrrhura spp.

Fast Facts

Macaws are typically large, brightly colored parrots with long tail feathers. The characteristic that distinguishes macaws from other members of the parrot family is their bare facial areas that vary in size and pattern according to different species.
Macaws range in size from the 30 cm (12 in.) Hahn's macaw (Ara nobilis nobilis) to the largest of all parrots, the hyacinth macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus), which can reach a size of approximately 102 cm (40 in.).
Hyacinth macaws weigh approximately 1550 to 1600 g (3 to 3.5 lbs.)
Most macaws feed mainly on seeds, nuts, and fruits. With their powerful, vice-like bills, some macaws are even able to crack open hard-shelled foods such as Brazil nuts.
Incubation time depends on the species, but typically lasts for 26 to 29 days
Clutch Size
Most macaw females lay 1 to 3 eggs
Sexual Maturity
Generally, approximately 2 to 4 years for most species of macaw
Life Span
Depends on the species; some macaws live 60 to 80 years or more
Macaws are native to Central and South America
Mostly found in rainforests, some species also found in more arid habitats
Macaw populations vary by species.  The glaucous macaw (Anodorhynchus glaucus) is on the verge of extinction with less than 50 individuals left in the wild. The last known wild Spix's macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii) died in late 2000; this species is very likely extinct in the wild and a captive population of 60 pt 80 birds is all that remains of the species.
IUCN: The Spix's, indigo (Anodorhynchus leari), and glaucous macaws are all listed as Endangered.
CITES: All macaws are listed on CITES Appendix I or II, meaning they are all protected under international regulations as either an endangered or threatened species.
USFWS: 14 species are listed; 4 species are listed as Critically Endangered and 4 species as Extinct.

Fun Facts

Macaws are a large group of birds in Psittacidae, the parrot family. More commonly seen large macaws include the military (Ara militaris), scarlet (A. macao), blue & gold (A. arauna), and green-winged macaw (A. chloroptera).

Macaws are social birds and typically form strong, monogamous pair bonds. They usually nest in the hollows of trees high off the ground or in the sides of cliffs. Both parents defend their eggs and chicks aggressively. They are often seen flying in large flocks and the bonded pairs fly close together, their wings nearly touching.

In the wild, macaws often flock to mountains of clay known as "macaw licks."

When disturbed, these bright birds screech loudly and circle overhead with their long tails streaming.

Macaws are playful and inquisitive and are able to mimic human vocalizations.

Macaws have strong beaks that are perfectly adapted for cracking open and eating a wide variety of nuts and seeds.

Macaws are able to reach flying speeds of up to 56 kph (35 mph).

Ecology and Conservation

In the course of daily feeding, macaws allow plenty of seeds (while eating, as well as in their droppings) to fall to the forest floor, thus generating much of the forest growth.

The main natural predator of macaws is the harpy eagle, but humans have caused more devastation to macaw populations.

In addition to damage done by rain forest habitat destruction, humans also hunt macaws for their plumage, meat, and for the exotic pet industry.

Macaws are popular pets, but potential owners should be well informed and prepared. Many macaws, such as blue & gold macaws, are targeted for pet trade.

Bird collectors pay thousands of dollars per bird. Smugglers take the eggs or young birds and sell them to exotic pet stores.

Macaws sold as pets must be hatched and hand-raised in the U.S. If not, they were likely smuggled in illegally. Buyers should also be aware that these birds are long-lived, often living several decades. Macaws also demand a great deal of time and attention and require daily interactions.

Besides pure-bred species, hybrids of macaws are also sold as pets. Hybrids include miligolds (military/blue & gold mix), catalinas (scarlet/blue & gold mix), and harlequins (green-winged/blue & gold mix). Many aviculturists are opposed to the practice of deliberate hybridization, as this makes preserving the pure-bred species more difficult.

In 1990, Defenders of Wildlife began a campaign in which more than 100 commercial airlines agreed to stop carrying birds. This stopped the delivery of new birds to dealers and forced some of them to breed the captive species they already had. In 1995, the Wild Bird Conservation Act was enacted and it halted the import of endangered birds, especially macaws.


Forshaw, J.M. Parrots of the World. New Jersey. T.F.H. Publications Inc., 1978.

Marrison, C. and A. Greensmith. Birds of the World. New York: Dorling Kindersley, Inc. 1993.

Perrins, C. (ed.). The Encyclopedia of Birds. New York: Facts on File Publications, 1985.