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The Scarlet Macaw – The Wild Side of a Popular Pet

Macaw in FlightThe Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao) is surely one of the most recognizable birds on the planet.  Images of this spectacular parrot adorn the brochures and T-shirts of travel agencies, zoos and aviaries worldwide.  Less well-known, however, is its natural habits and precarious existence in the wild.


At 33.5 inches in length, and with a wingspan to match, this deep red (or scarlet!), yellow-shouldered bird is one of the world’s largest parrots.

Its huge range extends from Oaxaca in southern Mexico through Central America to Columbia, Peru, Bolivia and Brazil, and east to French Guiana.  Within this area, however, it is rare or absent from many locales, and may be extinct in El Salvador.  Feral populations thrive in Puerto Rico and Florida.


A spectacular appearance, sociable nature and ability to mimic earmarked the Scarlet Macaw for trouble early on.  One of the first parrots to be severely impacted by both collection for the pet trade and habitat loss, by the early 1930’s it was already scarce near settled areas in most Central American countries.

Today, legal protection, captive breeding and the species’ ability to adapt to habitat disturbance has led to something of a rebound in its numbers, but its future is by no means secure.

Originally a bird of forest edges and wooded savannahs, Scarlet Macaws have now learned to utilize farms and relatively open areas as well.  Along with this change in behavior has come increased vigilance…they are very wary of people, and take flight (screaming for all they are worth!) at the slightest disturbance.

Observing Wild Macaws

Macaw PairIn common with others I have spoken with, my first sighting of wild Scarlet Macaws remains etched firmly in my mind.  I was on field research in Venezuela at the time (please see article below) and, despite having worked with macaws for years in captivity, I was simply awe-struck.

As many have noted, it was indeed quite easy to distinguish mated pairs, even in flight.  Paired birds were always in close association with one another, and grooming and squawking went on continuously.  Always loud, when startled or “arguing” their voices were truly ear-splitting…those seeking to keep these birds as pets must understand that there is no such think as a healthy yet quiet Scarlet Macaw!

Seeing Macaws and other parrots in the wild really brings home to one just how sociable they are.  This, and their high level of activity, must be taken into consideration when they are kept in captivity.  Without sufficient space, companionship and stimulation, macaws make poor pets.

Baths, Brains and the Future

Wild Scarlet Macaws love to bathe and their antics in the rain are said to be very funny.  Those I’ve cared for in zoos and aviaries accepted hose-bathing with gusto…several learned to fly to me immediately upon seeing a hose. In fact, by showing 1 pair a hose, I could get them to fly to their bathing site even though it was located away from me, on the other side of their exhibit.  This degree of learning ability bodes well for the future of wild Scarlet Macaws…if we give them a hand!

Further Reading

For more on wild Scarlet Macaws and the creatures that share their habitat, please see my article Notes on Wild Scarlet Macaws in Venezuela.


This following video illustrates how paired wild macaws stay close even in flight; another showing the bright colors of a macaw in flight is posted here.


Macaw in flight and Macaw Pair image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Snowmanradio


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About Frank Indiviglio

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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