The scarlet macaw is probably one of the most colorful and vibrant animals in the world. They are also one of the most recognizable, and probably the first bird that comes to mind when you hear the word “parrot.”
They have white faces, and the top part of their beak is white as well. The lower part of it is black, though. The rest of the top half of its body is red with a band of yellow below it. Sometimes the tips of the yellow feathers have green on them, and sometimes feathers are mostly green. You can see the differences in the amount of green between the two birds above.
Below the yellow and green is a section of blue. The tail is mostly red with some blue feathers as well. Sometimes the tails also have purple, but not always. Their feet and legs are completely black. The scarlet macaw is the national bird of Honduras, and it also appears on the Columbian 200 peso coin.
The picture below shows a scarlet macaw in flight. Its spread wings and tail makes it look a lot larger than the ones shown above. It also doesn’t have any green on its feathers like the other two do.
Scarlet macaws are rather large birds, in fact, they are the largest species of parrot! They range from 31 to 38 inches (80-96 cm) in length, though they are normally right about the middle of this range. Of this, the tail makes up between one-third and one-half of the length! Males and females have similar body size, but the males have slightly longer tails and beaks.
These creatures weigh between 2 and 3.2 pounds (0.9 and 1.5 kg), and they average about 2.6 pounds (1.2 kg). This is about the weight of a small cantaloupe, if you can imagine a cantaloupe being a bird.
These parrots, like most parrots, are herbivores. They eat a wide variety of fruit, nuts, leaves, berries, seeds, and flowers. These are some of the largest herbivorous birds where they live, so many of the fruits other birds cannot eat scarlet macaws can. They are also able to eat tougher fruits and harder nuts, since their beaks are so strong. Sometimes they will even eat bark!
Another surprising thing about this bird’s diet is that it can eat fruits that are too toxic for most animals. They are able to survive this not because of a superior immune system or a strong digestive system, but because they eat clay.
That’s right, eating clay can actually help this bird digest harmful toxin they ingest while eating unripe fruit! The clay does this by absorbing the toxins itself before the bird’s digestive system can absorb them. The toxins then pass through its body with the clay.
Habitat and range
Scarlet macaws live primarily in South America, but they also inhabit portions of Central America and Mexico. The areas they inhabit are close to the equator, in tropical areas. Their range is shown in green on the map below.
These birds normally live high up in the canopy of the rainforests. They especially like areas close to rivers. Scarlet macaws have been seen at elevations of almost one mile (1,600 m). They have been known to make small seasonal migrations in order to keep up with the food supply. Food and nesting areas are the main things that decide what makes a good habitat for these parrots.
Status and threats
Scarlet macaws are classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Redlist. One of their biggest threats is deforestation, but they are also hunted for many reasons. Their meat and feathers are sold, and even though selling the birds in the pet trade is illegal, many people still do it. They may think it worth the risk because of the $1,000 they can get from selling just one bird.
Despite their size, these parrots do have some natural predators. Some of these, like snakes and monkeys, are only real threats to the eggs and young. The adults still do have some threats, such as large cats like jaguars, and large raptors like eagles and hawks.
Reproduction and young
Scarlet macaws have a long breeding season that runs from October to April. The time they actually breed depends on where they live. Pairs will remain together for life, and they usually breed every other year.
The nest is made in a hole high up in a tall tree. The female lays between one and four eggs in this nest, and the eggs are incubated for about three and a half weeks. The main reason pairs only mate every other year is that it can take this long for the young to become independent.
Even though it takes this long, the young are able to fly be about 14 weeks old. Until the young scarlet macaws are able to get food themselves, the male will feed them regurgitated food that has already been mostly digested. In about just one or two years after they are independent, the young are ready to breed for the first time. These birds normally live between 30 and 40 years in the wild, but in captivity they have been known to survive for more than 60 years!
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- Scarlet macaw – Public Domain
- Scarlet macaw flying – Wikipedia user: Robert01
- Scarlet macaw range – Wikipedia user: Concerto
- Mystery animal – Terry Goss