Macaw

The term macaw refers to large, colorful parrots living in the Americas. These birds all have an exceptionally strong, curved beak that can exert enough pressure to snap a wooden broom handle! They also have a rough tongue containing a bone. These adaptations help macaws to crack open the hard casings of nuts and seeds, which comprise a major part of their diet. Like other birds in the parrot family, a macaw’s upper beak is relatively mobile compared to the upper beaks of birds in other families, allowing it to manipulate food with ease using its beak. Due to the relative lack of minerals in the macaw’s wild diet, it is not uncommon to see macaws in the wild licking at clay to obtain the minerals that they require. Ingestion of mineralized clay also helps macaws to neutralize toxins found in some of the seeds and nuts that they eat.

Macaws are zygodactyl, meaning that they have four toes on each foot, with two toes facing forward and two facing backwards. Having this layout of digits allows them to grip tree limbs very well so that they can perch stably. It also allows them to use their feet to grip difficult to manage food items, should the need arise.

As mentioned before, macaws display striking colors due to pigments in their feathers. Some macaws, notably the hyacinth macaw and the blue and yellow macaw, are covered in vibrant blue plumage. This blue coloration doesn’t come from blue pigments, however, as these are extraordinarily rare in nature. Instead, the blue color is formed from light waves reflecting off the feathers and interfering in such a way that our eyes perceive the color blue.

The majority of macaws are endangered. A few species are extinct, i.e. Spix’s and glaucous macaws. Primarily deforestation with clearing or burning forest areas for farming or urbanization and the pet trade which has a high mortality rate are responsible for declining numbers of macaws. Feather usage has also been a factor in diminishing numbers.

Hyacinth

Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus

Distribution: Forests of Brazil in three isolated locations (one by the Bolivia and Paraguay borders, one across the states of Goiás, Minas Gerais and Bahia and one in the state of Pará)

Diet in the Wild: Hard fruits from endemic palm trees

Diet at Caldwell Zoo:Parrot pellets, various fruits and vegetables

IUCN Red List Status: Vulnerable, population decreasing

U.S. Endangered Species Act Status: Threatened

Threats: Habitat loss, poaching, some hunting

Appearance: Blue plumage over all of its body with yellow skin in a ring around its eyes and above its lower beak.

Interesting Facts:

The hyacinth macaw is the largest species of macaw, with a head to tail-tip height of around 39.4in (100cm), a wingspan of around 4.2ft (127cm) and a weight averaging between 3lbs and 3.7lbs (1361g and 1678g).

Blue & Yellow or Blue & Gold Macaw

Ara ararauna

Distribution: Forests of northern South America

Diet in the Wild: Various fruits, seeds, berries and nuts including palm tree fruit and sand-box tree seeds

Diet at Caldwell Zoo: Parrot pellets, various fruits and vegetables

IUCN Red List Status: Least concern, population decreasing

Threats: Habitat loss from deforestation

Appearance: Blue plumage on the crown, back, upper wings and upper tail; golden-yellow plumage on the breast, the undersides of the wings, under the tail and on the sides of the face; green plumage on the forehead; black plumage under the throat and cheeks, and in lines beside and under the eyes; exposed white skin in the facial region.

Interesting Facts:

Male blue and yellow macaws have a head to tail length of 34-36in (86-91cm), while females have a head to tail length of 32-34in (81-86cm).

The seemingly conspicuous plumage of the blue and yellow macaw actually helps it to conceal itself in bright sunlight.

Green Wing or Red & Green Macaw

Ara chloropterus

Distribution: Forests of northern and central South America

Diet in the wild: Various fruits and nuts

Diet at Caldwell Zoo: Parrot pellets, various fruits and vegetables

IUCN Red List Status: Least concern, population decreasing

Threats: Habitat destruction

Appearance: Red plumage on the head, breast and upper back; outside wing has red plumage on the upper region, green plumage on the central region and blue plumage on the lower region; inside wing has red plumage; tail plumage has a central red region surrounded by blue; exposed white skin in the facial region with red plumage forming lines under and beside the eyes.

Interesting Facts:

The green-wing macaw is the second largest of the macaw species. It can inhabit tropical rainforest or wooded areas and sometimes is even seen in open savanna-like areas. Although it does need trees for roosting and nesting, it will nest in a cliff face cavity.

Military

Ara militaris

Distribution: Forests of Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Argentina

Diet in the Wild: Seeds and fruits of various plants, including mangos, palm fruit and sand-box tree seeds

Diet at Caldwell Zoo: Parrot pellets, various fruits and vegetables

IUCN Red List Status: Vulnerable, population decreasing

U.S. Endangered Species Act Status: Endangered

Threats: Habitat loss, poaching

Appearance: Green plumage on most of the body, including the upper head, down the upper and central back, on the breast, on the leading edge of both wings and on the tip of the tail; blue plumage on the wingtips and tailing edge of both wings, in the lower back leading into the tail and in the upper tail; red plumage on the forehead and in the mid tail; black feathers forming lines beside and under the eyes; exposed white skin in the facial region.

Interesting Facts:

Seeds make up approximately 39% of the military macaw’s wild diet.

Although present in 7 different countries, the military macaw’s range is highly fragmented.

Scarlet Macaw

Ara macao

Distribution: Forests of Belize, Guatemala and northern South America

Diet in the Wild: Various nuts, berries, seeds and leaves

Diet at Caldwell Zoo: Parrot pellets, various fruits and vegetables

IUCN Red List Status: Least concern, population decreasing

Threats: Habitat loss, poaching

Appearance: Red plumage across most of the body, including the head, breast, upper back and mid to lower tail; yellow-green plumage at the center of the outer wing; blue plumage on the leading and tailing edges of the outer wing, the lower back and the upper tail; white plumage and exposed white skin in the facial region.

Interesting Facts:

The scarlet macaw can live up to 75 years in captivity.

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