Macaws: Detailed Information & Photos
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These amazing parrots are either extinct or close to extinction. Successful conservation programs are ongoing to save the last of them ...
Distribution / Habitat
Macaws are vividly colored parrots found in Mexico, Central America, South America, and formerly the Caribbean.
These formidable birds have been popularly kept as pets for decades with records of the Green-winged Macaw having been kept as long ago as the turn of the 17th century or earlier.
Most macaw species are found in tropical rainforests along waterways or in Palm swamp forests. They nest in tree cavities and feed on the seeds found in the canopy of trees:
The exceptions are ..
- The Red-fronted Macaws inhabit subtropical, xerophytic thorny scrub with many cacti, scattered thorny trees and scrub, in a climate that semi arid with cold nights and hot days. This is the only macaw species living in such a climatic zone. They usually nest in the crevices of cliffs.
- The Yellow-collared Macaws occur in cerrado and deciduous woodland where they feed on fruit and seeds.
In the wild, parrots often flock to exposed riverbank clay licks (or "Macaw licks") to ingest mineral-rich clay that benefit these birds in two different ways ...
- Valuable, health-promoting nutrients are deposited in the clay on the river walls as water washes down the river bed.
- Natural detoxification: Macaws often digest unripe seeds and nuts and other food items with toxic compounds that are strong enough to kill other animals. The clay binds to these toxins and coats the bird's digestive system, allowing these poisons to pass through their digestive systems without harming these parrots.
The locations of at least 120 known clay licks are known in the Amazon basin, where large flocks of parrots are found feeding. Some of the more accessible locations have become tourist attractions.
All macaws have slim bodies, broad heads and long, pointed, graceful tails that are as long or longer than their bodies.
They have large, strong beaks, which earn them a high degree of respect, and serve them well in opening even the hardest of nuts.
They have long, pointed wings that allow them to fly swiftly. In fact, they can reach speeds of up to 35 mph / 56 kmh. These agile and adapt flyers are able to navigate effortlessly through dense forests.
Variations exist in terms of size and plumage coloration, which ranges from green to blue, red and yellow.
Males and females look alike and either DNA (feather or blood) testing or surgical sexing is needed to identify the gender.
The young of most macaw species start out with grey or black eyes, which change to brown or yellow as they mature.
The different macaw species vary greatly in size:
- the smallest macaw - the Hahn's Macaw - is barely larger than a cockatiel, measuring only about 12 inches or 30 cm in length, including the long tail;
- the largest macaw - the Hyacinth - is also the largest of all parrots in terms of length and wingspan - averaging up to 40 inches (1 meter) in length. The flightless Kakapo is heavier, but not as long.
Macaw's Interesting Physical Adaptations:
- The tongue is dry, slightly scaly, and has a bone inside it - making it an effective tool for breaking open and eating food.
- The sharp, hooked bill is perfect for break open nut pods, and it is so strong that it can easily crush the hardest of all nuts and seeds..
- They have strong, zygodactylous feet with 2 toes pointing forward and 2 toes pointing backward (like woodpeckers) allow them to easily grasp food and other items, and bring items to their mouths for further exploration or for feeding, or they function to securely grasp the branches as they perch or move around in trees.
Macaws in Captivity / as Pets - Things to consider before adding a Macaw to your family
Breeding / Nesting
Macaws are monogamous (forming pair bonds that last a lifetime) and even though pairs often join flocks outside the breeding season, pairs usually remain close to each other - except when one of them has to tend to a nest, eggs or young.
Pairs often engage in mutual preening or feeding when roosting in trees, and even in flight, they remain so close to each other that their wings are nearly touching. During the breeding season, nesting females typically incubate the eggs or take care of any nestlings, while the males will guard the area around the nest in addition to gathering and bringing food back to the nest to feed his mate and the young.
Breeding macaws in captivity ensures a steady flow of available captive-bred birds for the pet market, as well as making wild birds less attractive to poachers.
These intelligent creatures are curious and ever alert, as they keep watch for predators. They are very social, spending a good amount of their days interacting with mates, family groups and flock members.
They typically sleep in the trees at night, and in the morning flocks of them fly to their favorite foraging places - often over long distances - to feed on fruit, nuts, insects and snails.
They use their beaks, tongues, feet and eyes to explore objects to assess their suitability as food, tools or toys. Macaws also spend a good amount of time chewing on wood to keep their beaks in good shape.
Most macaw species also enjoy water and are often observed splashing around in shallow puddles.
They make their presence known by their loud, screeching and squawking voices that are often heard in flight or when calling out to each other from their roosting places.
Most gain reproductive maturity when they are about 7 or 8 years old.
Relevant Web Resources
- BirdLife International, A global Partnership of conservation organizations that strives to conserve birds, their habitats and global biodiversity, working with people towards sustainability in the use of natural resources.
- The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
- Horst Schmidt, Macaws as a Hobby, T.F.H Publications, Inc.
- Joseph M. Forshaw, Parrots of the World, Hancock House Pub Ltd. 2000
- Dr. David Alderton, The Atlas of Parrots of the World, T.F.H. Publications, Inc. 1991.
Species Research by Sibylle Johnson
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