Head and body height: largest—hyacinth macaw Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus, 39.4 inches (100 centimeters); smallest—red-shouldered macaw Diopsittaca nobilis, 11.8 inches (30 centimeters)
Weight: largest—hyacinth macaw, 3 to 3.7 pounds (1,435 to 1,695 grams); smallest—red-shouldered macaw, 4.5 to 5.9 ounces (129 to 169 grams)
Life span: up to 50 years
Incubation: 23 to 30 days, depending on species
Number of eggs: 1 to 4, depending on species
Age of maturity: 2 to 10 years, depending on species
Conservation status: Spix’s macaw Cyanopsitta spixii is believed to be extinct in the wild; indigo macaw Anodorhynchus leari is at critical risk; blue-throated macaw Ara glaucogularis, red-fronted macaw Ara rubrogenys, and hyacinth macaw are endangered.
macaw’s beak is so strong it can easily crush a whole Brazil
nut—or a person’s knuckle!
The hyacinth macaw has a wingspan of more than 4 feet (127 centimeters).
The red-fronted macaw can fly at up to 40 miles per hour (60 kilometers per hour) and is such a powerful flier that it can even fly in a sandstorm.
Most macaws start out with gray or black eyes when they’re young, which change to brown or yellow when they mature.
Screaming is a natural behavior for macaws. They do it to make contact with one another, to define territory, and even as part of their play. They can also imitate sounds and words that they hear, often practicing to themselves until they get it right.
A macaw’s tongue is dry, slightly scaly, and has a bone inside it, all of which makes it an excellent tool for breaking open and eating food.
Listen to a macaw!
Macaws are members of the parrot family and have the typical parrot features. They have large, strong, curved beaks designed to crush nuts and seeds. Strong, agile toes are used like hands to grasp things. Loud, screeching and squawking voices help make their presence known in dense rain forests. Macaws are built to fly through the trees in the forest, with a streamlined body and tail shape and wings that don’t flap deeply. They are also famous for their bright colors, which seem bold and conspicuous to us but actually blend in well with the green leaves, red and yellow fruits, and bluish shadows in the rain forest.
A day in the life
One of the outstanding natural sights in South America is a large flock of colorful macaws bursting up from the forest canopy in flight. Macaws live in pairs, family groups, or flocks of 10 to 30, which helps give them protection from predators like large snakes and birds of prey. They usually wake before dawn, preening their feathers and calling to one another, perhaps communicating where they are and what they plan to do next. Then, as a group, they fly up out of the trees to journey to the day’s feeding grounds, often traveling quite a long distance to a grove of trees with ripe fruit. They feast until midday, when they settle down for more preening and "chatting," then forage more in the afternoon. Shortly before or after dusk, they all take wing again to return to their roosting site, where they call to each other to figure out who sits where. The sitting arrangement can change from day to day! Sometimes squabbles break out, but macaws rarely physically injure each other. Once everyone is settled, they quiet down, fluff out their feathers, and prepare to snooze through the night.
Macaws eat a variety of ripe and unripe fruits, nuts and seeds, flowers, leaves, and stems of plants, and sources of protein like insects and snails. Some species specialize in eating the hard fruits and nuts of palm trees. One trick they use for this is to forage in fields where cattle live. The cattle eat the palm nuts, which pass through their digestive systems and come out the other end with the hard coating removed. This makes the nuts softer and easier for the macaws to eat! Macaws also visit riverbanks and cliffs made of clay soil, which they eat. Scientists think that the soil neutralizes any toxic chemicals the birds might eat in seeds or unripe fruits, so they don’t get a stomachache.
When adult macaws choose mates, they usually stay together until one of them dies. This close relationship is called a pair bond. The pair reinforces their bond by preening each other’s feathers, sharing food, and roosting together. Most macaw pairs breed once a year, and the female lays her eggs in a nest inside a tree hollow or in a dirt hollow on a cliff face. Only the mother does the incubating until the chicks hatch; the father is in charge of bringing her food. Then both parents bring food to the chicks. Macaw chicks are helpless and need their parents’ care until they grow their flight feathers. The fledglings are clumsy at first as they learn to fly, but once they get the hang of it, they start flying with the adults to forage for food.
Macaws are intelligent and curious birds that like to explore and keep busy. They are very aware of their surroundings, which is necessary to keep watch for predators. As social birds they spend a lot of time interacting with their mates and their family groups. They have been known to use tools, and they like to play with interesting objects they find. They will exam the objects from different angles, moving them with their feet, testing them with their tongues, and tossing them around. Macaws are also big chewers, something they need to do to keep their beaks in good shape. They can do impressive damage to even very hard wood with their beaks. Most macaw species like to take baths, and they play in the water as they splash around.
Help for macaws
Several macaw species are now listed as endangered. Habitat destruction, trapping for the pet trade, and land development are all factors in their decline in numbers. However, in an effort to help bring their numbers back up in the wild, some landowners are no longer allowing trappers on their properties.