Macaws belong to a family of birds that includes parrots, parakeets, lorikeets, love birds, and cockatoos. Macaws are the largest of the family, ranging in size from about one foot to over three feet and displaying a large variety of vibrant colors. All have long, elegant tail feathers. They are highly intelligent birds with the ability to mimic human speech, learn tricks, and read human emotions. Macaws have been observed using tools and are excellent at manipulating objects with their beaks, feet, and tongues.
Hundreds of macaws often gather at clay licks that have been exposed by erosion along riverbanks or in the forest. The clay contains minerals that may help neutralize any toxins from any unripe fruit they may consume. In addition, the clay provides salt and other nutrients that are missing from the birds’ diet. Some researchers believe the clay licks may also be a place for the birds to exchange information about good feeding areas.
Huge, hooked beaks allow these birds to crack large seeds and nuts or feed on tough-skinned fruits. This powerful bite can also be used in defense. Zygodactyl feet (with two toes facing forward and two toes pointing backward) make them skilled at climbing, walking along branches, and plucking fruit. Breeding macaw pairs form bonds that can last years or even a lifetime. Nests are located in a tree hollow or other cavity. Macaws may even use their beaks to dig a nest cavity in a cliff. Females lay one to four eggs that are incubated for about 25 days. Chicks learn to fly within three months but may stay with their parents for up to two years.
The majority of wild macaws are endangered, and five species have already been declared extinct. Major threats include habitat loss due to deforestation and the illegal pet trade.
Several species of macaw are housed at the L.A. Zoo, including:
- Blue and gold macaw (Ara ararauna): Least Concern
- Blue-throated macaw (Ara glaucogularis): Critically Endangered
- Hyacinth macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus): Vulnerable
- Military macaw (Ara militaris): Vulnerable
- Red-fronted macaw (Ara rubrogenys): Critically Endangered
- Scarlet macaw (Ara macao): Least Concern
Macaws are found in tropical and subtropical areas of Mexico, Central America, and South America. They prefer the top story of the tree canopy.
Fruits, nuts, seeds, and other plant matter.
Macaws species range from one to three feet in length and weigh between two and three pounds. They can live 50 years or more.