Scarlet Macaw

Tropical Rainforest


In the Zoo

Scientific Information

Scientific Name: Ara macao
Class: Aves
Order: Psittaciformes
Family: Psittacidae
Genus: Ara




Height: 30-38 inches 30-38 inches
Wingspan: 44-47 inches 44-47 inches
Weight: 2 – 3.5 pounds 1-2 pounds
Maturity: 3-4 years 3-4 years

Lifestyle and Lifespan

Diet: Herbivorous
Activity Timeframe: Diurnal
Interactivity: Social
Sexual Dimorphism: No
Gestation: Incubation lasts 24-28 days, carried out primarily by the female.
Lifespan in the Wild: 40-60 years
Lifespan in Captivity: up to 75 years

Geographic Range

This bird can be found in southern Mexico, Central America, and South America. In Central America, it is found in Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. In South America, it is found in northern Columbia and throughout the Amazon basin, from Venezuela south the Bolivia and Columbia in the west and across northern Brazil to the Atlantic coast.


Status in the Wild: Least Concerned
Threats: Habitat Loss


Scarlet macaws are large parrots known for their bright plumage. They have a vibrant red coloration on their head, shoulders, upper back and front, followed by a yellow band on the upperwing-coverts. The flight feathers, lower back, rump, and outer tail feathers are blue, with red tail feathers in the middle. The tail is long, measuring up to two feet and representing about half of the total length of the bird. The face has a bare patch of white skin around a yellow eye. The upper mandible is whitish with a black tip and base, and the lower mandible is black. Females and males are similar in coloration and juveniles have a shorter tail and a gray-brown eye rather than a yellow eye.

Species Specifics

"There are two subspecies of Scarlet macaw. The nominate subspecies, A. m. macao, is slightly smaller and the median and secondary wing coverts are yellow, sometimes tipped with green. Its range is from Costa Rica south and throughout the Amazon basin. The other subspecies, A. m. cyanoptera, is slightly larger and the median and secondary wing coverts are edged in blue. Its range is from southern Mexico south to northeastern Nicaragua. The Scarlet macaw bears resemblance to the Red and green macaw, but can be differentiated by the upper-wing coverts, which are yellow in the Scarlet macaw and green in the Red and green macaw. The Scarlet macaw’s red coloration is lighter, its tail longer and red-tipped (as opposed to blue-tipped), and lacks the red feather stripes around their eyes that the Red and green macaw has. The Scarlet macaw is smaller."

Physical Characteristics

The beak of the Scarlet macaw is made for cracking open the hardest nuts. The upper mandible is connected to the skull by a movable joint that allows the beak to open and move more than other birds. The insides of the beak have grinding surfaces to break down nuts and seeds and aid in digestion.



Lowland rainforest and gallery forest, savanna and humid forests, no more than 3, 500 feet above sea level. Microhabitat is forest canopy.


The total population is estimated to be no more than 50,000 individuals. Home range is large, as these birds will travel miles to forage.


Scarlet macaws will eat fruits, seeds, nuts, leaf shoots, flowers, and nectar. At times, they will consume unripe fruit which is high in tannins and other toxic compounds; the ability to do so is because they ingest clay, which helps digest the toxins.

Ecological Web

Scarlet macaws are both pollinators and seed dispersers, and help shape the fauna of their habitat. They use nests made by other animals, and can be prey to snakes, monkeys, jaguars, eagles and hawks.

Activity and Behavior

Activity Pattern

They forage for food in the canopy during the day and gather at communal roosts at night.


These birds will often ingest clay to help break down toxic compounds found in unripe fruit, which the birds will also eat.

Social Behavior

Scarlet macaws are seen in pairs or small family groups of up to 5 individuals. Sometimes they gather in flocks of up to 30 birds. Roosting spots are communal, and may have as many as 50 birds.

Reproductive Behavior

Scarlet macaws will pair bond for life, and are rarely seen apart from their mate. They engage in mutual preening, feeding, and licking each other’s faces to strengthen their bonds. The birds nest every other year, and breeding season begins in late fall in the southern part of their range, and winter in the northern part of their range. During this time, the pair will remove themselves from a communal roost to nest privately. The nest is usually a cavity high up on the trunk of a canopy tree, often made by other animals, and lined with woodchips. The female will be incubating most of the time and the male will feed her, and then later the chicks.


1-4 white eggs are laid, and will hatch after the incubation period. Chicks are altricial, needing parental care. The female will brood the chicks while the male will protect the nest and deliver food as many as 15 times a day. Chicks fledge after about 8 weeks, but will remain with the parents until 1 or 2 years of age.



The Scarlet macaw is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, and is on Appendix I of CITES. The population is in decline.


Carolus Linnaeus gave the Scarlet macaw its scientific name in his Systemae Naturae in 1758. It was added to the CITES Appendices in 1975, appearing on Appendix III. In 1980, it was put on Appendix II, and in 1985 upgraded to Appendix I, where it has been since. It was added to the IUCN Red List in 1988 under the category of Lower Risk/least concern (now just Least Concern).

Current Threats

Habitat Loss

Our Role

The Oakland Zoo is conservation partner to ARCAS, in Guatemala, which was originally established to help rescue and rehabilitate animals confiscated from the black market, including Scarlet macaws.

How You Can Help

"If you are interested in having a parrot as a pet, do extensive research before deciding. Parrots are long-lived birds, and may outlive many humans. They require lots of stimulation, enrichment, and attention. If you are determined in getting a parrot, please consider getting a rescued parrot as opposed to a young/baby parrot to avoid the risk of getting a parrot that was smuggled from the wild (a very traumatic experience for birds) and supporting the illegal pet trade. The Oakland Zoo is a conservation partner to Mickaboo Companion Bird Rescue, a good organization to adopt from."

Fascinating Facts

The male does most of the feeding of the chicks while the female broods. The male may feed regurgitated food to the chicks as many as 15 times a day! As they get older, the chicks can hold more food in their crop and the number of feedings decreases.

Fledglings may stay with their parents for up to two years! This extended duration of dependence allows them to learn from their parents before they are sexually mature.

The long tail of the Scarlet macaw helps it balance by acting as a brace while foraging for food.

The ingestion of clay is known as geophagy. It is thought that Scarlet macaws and other parrots engage in geophagy to help break down toxins from eating unripe fruit.

The Scarlet macaw was considered sacred by the Mayan people, it represented daylight and the rising sun.

A social bird, the Scarlet macaw can be found in small family groups or flocks of up to 30 individuals. Sometimes, they will form mixed species flocks with other macaws and parrots.


P.O. Box 5238

9777 Golf Links Road Oakland, CA 94605