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A Hyacinth Macaw in the Pantanal, Mato Grosso, Brazil
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Psittaciformes
Family: Psittacidae
Subfamily: Psittacinae
Tribe: Arini


For the Chinese special administrative region, see Macau.

Macaws are small to large, often colourful New World parrots. Of the many different Psittacidae (true parrots) genera, six are classified as macaws: Ara, Anodorhynchus, Cyanopsitta, Primolius, Orthopsittaca, and Diopsittaca. Previously, the members of the genus Primolius were placed in Propyrrhura, but the former is correct in accordance with ICZN rules.[1] Macaws are native to Mexico, Central America, South America, and formerly the Caribbean. Most species are associated with forest, especially rainforest, but others prefer woodland or savannah-like habitats.

Large, dark (usually black) beaks, and relatively bare, light coloured, medial (facial patch) areas distinguish macaws. Sometimes the facial patch is smaller in some species, and limited to a yellow patch around the eyes and a second patch near the base of the beak in the members of the genus Anodorhynchus, or Hyacinth Macaw. A macaw's facial feather pattern is as unique as a fingerprint.[2]

Some of the macaw species are known for their impressive size. The largest parrot in length and wingspan is the Hyacinth Macaw. The heaviest macaw is the Buffon's, although the heaviest parrot is the flightless Kakapo. While still relatively large parrots, the macaws of the genera Cyanopsitta, Orthopsittaca and Primolius are significantly smaller than the members of Anodorhynchus and Ara. The smallest member of the family, the Red-shouldered Macaw, is no larger than some parakeets of the genus Aratinga.

Macaws, like other parrots, toucans and woodpeckers, are zygodactyl, having their first and fourth toes pointing backwards.


Species in taxonomic order

There are 18 species of Macaws, including extinct and critically endangered species.[3] In addition, there are several hypothetical extinct species that have been proposed based on very little evidence.[4]


Hypothetical extinct species

Several hypothetical extinct species of macaws have been postulated based on very little evidence, and they may have been subspecies, or familiar parrots that were imported onto an Island and later presumed to have a separate identity.[4]

Extinctions and conservation status

The majority of macaws are now endangered in the wild. Six species are already extinct, and Spix's Macaw is now considered to be extinct in the wild. The Glaucous Macaw is also probably extinct, with only two reliable records of sightings in the 20th century. The greatest problems threatening the macaw population are the rapid rate of deforestation and the illegal trapping for the bird trade.

International trade of all macaw species is regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES). Some species of macaws for example, the Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao) are listed on Appendix I and may not be traded for commercial purposes. Other species for example, the Red-Shouldered Macaw (Diopsittaca nobilis) are listed on Appendix II and may be legally traded commercially provided that certain controls are in place. The controls include a non-detriment finding, establishment of an export quota and issuing of export permits.


A common trend in recent years is hybridising macaws for the pet trade. Hybrids are typical macaws, with the only difference from true species being their genetics and their colours. Male offspring tend to take on the traits of the mother, and the females take the traits of the father. As for their temperament and behaviour, they seem to inherit traits of both parents.

Aviculturists have reported an over abundance of female blue and gold macaws in captivity, which differs from the general rule with captive macaws and other parrots, where the males are more abundant. This would explain why the blue and gold is the most commonly hybridised macaw, and why the hybridising trend took hold among macaws. Common macaw hybrids include Harlequins (Ara ararauna x chloroptera) and Catalinas (known as Rainbows in Australia, A. ararauna x macao).[6]

Clay licks

Macaws eat a variety of foods including fruits, palm fruits, nuts, seeds, leaves, flowers, and stems. Wild species may forage widely, over 100 km for some of the larger species such as Ara araurana (blue & yellow macaw) and Ara ambiguus (great green macaw), in search of seasonally available foods. Some foods eaten by macaws in the wild contain toxic or caustic substances which they are able to digest. To date, there are no studies that directly show how these substances are tolerated. Though it has been suggested by some that parrots and macaws in the Amazon basin eat clay from exposed river banks in order to neutralize these toxins, recent studies show that these clays do not have the ability to absorb toxins. Rather, these clays are eaten for their sodium content. Donald Brightsmith, the principal investigator of the Tambopata Macaw Project, located at the Tambopata Research Center (TRC) in Peru, has studied the clay eating behavior of parrots at clay licks in Peru. He and fellow investigators found that the soils macaws choose to consume at the clay licks do not have higher levels of cation exchange capacity (ability to adsorb toxins) than that of unused areas of the clay licks [7] and thus the parrots could not be using the clay to neutralize ingested food toxins. Rather, the macaws and other bird and animal species prefer clays with higher levels of [8] sodium. This makes sense since sodium is a vital element that is scarce in environments >100 kilometers from the ocean On the biogeography of salt limitation. Salt-enriched (NaCl) oceanic aerosols are the main source of environmental sodium near coasts. Environmental sodium decreases drastically farther inland and patchy distributions of sodium leaching from rocks becomes the primary source of sodium in the environment. Exposed sodium-rich deposits in river banks become magnates for sodium-deprived birds and animals.

Additionally, macaws found in regions such as Mexico and Central America have never been observed visiting clay licks or eating soil. This makes sense in light of the theory that sodium is the attractant for geophagy. Most regions of Mexico and all of Central America are within 100 km of a coast and thus receive sodium via ocean aerosols.

As well, clay-eating behavior by macaws is not seen outside the Amazon region even though macaws in these areas consume toxic foods such as the seeds of Hura crepitans, or sandbox tree, which have toxic sap. One unpublished theory is that these birds also consume other plants containing detoxifying agents such as tannins that neutralize the toxins.

Finally, further studies at TRC have shown a correlation between clay lick use and breeding season Parrot breeding season and the use of clay licks. Contents of nestling crop samples show a high percentage of clay fed to them by their parents. Calcium for egg development - another hypothesis - does not appear to be a reason for geophagy during this period as peak usage is after the hatching of eggs.



  1. ^ South American Classification Committee To reassign the genus of three macaws.
  2. ^ "Facial fingerprint:". 
  3. ^ "Zoological Nomenclature Resource: Psittaciformes (Version 9.004)". 2008-07-05. 
  4. ^ a b Fuller, Errol (1987). Extinct Birds. Penguin Books (England). pp. 148–9. ISBN 0670817972. 
  5. ^ Wetmore, A. (1937). "Ancient records of birds from the island of St. Croix with observations on extinct and living of Puerto Rico.". J. Agric. Univ. Puerto Rico 21: 5–16. 
  6. ^ Macaws, Hybrid Names, and pages on individual hybrids.
  7. ^ Brightsmith & Muñoz-Najar. 2004. Avian Geophagy and Soil Characteristics in Southeastern Peru. Biotropica 36(4): 534-543.
  8. ^ Powell et al. 2009. Parrots Take it with a Grain of Salt: Available Sodium Content May Drive Collpa (Clay Lick) Selection in Southeastern Peru. Biotropica 41(3):279-282.
  • Abramson, J., Speer, B. L., & Thomsen, J.B. 1999, "The Large Macaws, Their Care and Breeding", Raintree Publications:CA
  • Brightsmith, D. J. 2006. The psittacine year: what drives annual cycles in Tambopata's parrots? Proceedings of the Loro Parque International Parrot Symposium, Tenerife, Spain.
  • Brightsmith, D., and R. Aramburú. 2004. Avian geophagy and soil characteristics in southeastern Peru. Biotropica 36:534-543.
  • Gilardi, J. D. 1996. Ecology of parrots in the Peruvian Amazon: Habitat use, nutrition, and geophagy. Ph.D. dissertation. University of California at Davis, Davis, California.

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

MACAW, or, as formerly spelt, MACCAw, the name given to some fifteen or more species of large, long-tailed birds of the parrot-family, natives of the neotropical region, and forming a very well-known and easily recognized genus Ara, and to the four species of Brazilian Hyacinthine macaws of the genera Anodorhynchus and Cyanopsittacus. Most of the macaws are remarkable for their gaudy plumage, which exhibits the brightest scarlet, yellow, blue and green in varying proportion and often in violent contrast, while a white visage often adds a very peculiar and expressive character.' With one exception the known species of Ara inhabit the mainland of America from Paraguay to Mexico, being especially abundant in Bolivia, where no fewer than seven of them (or nearly one half) have been found (Proc. Zool. Soc., 18 79, p. 6 34). The single extra-continental species, A. tricolor, is one of the most brilliantly coloured, and is peculiar to Cuba, where, according to Gundlach (Ornitologia Cubana, p. 126), its numbers are rapidly decreasing so that there is every chance of its becoming extinct?

Of the best known species of the group, the blue-and-yellow macaw, A. ararauna, has an extensive range in South America from Guiana in the east to Colombia in the west, and southwards to Paraguay. Of large size, it is to be seen in almost every zoological garden, and it is very frequently kept alive in private houses, for its temper is pretty good, and it will become strongly attached to those who tend it. Its richly coloured plumage, sufficiently indicated by its common English name, supplies feathers eagerly sought by salmon-fishers for the making of artificial flies. The red-and-blue macaw, A. macao, is even larger and more gorgeously clothed, for, besides the colours expressed in its ordinary appellation, yellow and green enter into its adornment. It inhabits Central as well as South America as far as Bolivia, and is also a common bird in captivity, though perhaps less often seen than the foregoing. The red-andyellow species, A. chloroptera, ranging from Panama to Brazil, is smaller, or at least has a shorter tail, and is not quite so usually met with in menageries. The red-and-green, militaris, smaller again than the last, is not unfrequent in confinement, and presents the colours of the name it bears. This has the most northerly extension of habitat, occurring in Mexico and thence southwards to Bolivia. In A. manilata and nobilis the prevailing colour is green and blue. The Hyacinthine macaws A. hyacinthinus, A. leari, A. glaucus and Cyanopsittacus spixi are almost entirely blue.

The macaws live well in captivity, either chained to a perch or kept in large aviaries in which their strong flight is noticeable. The note of these birds is harsh and screaming. The sexes are 1 This serves to separate the macaws from the long-tailed parakeets of the New World (Conurus), to which they are very nearly allied.

a There is some reason to think that Jamaica may have formerly possessed a macaw (though no example is known to exist), and if so it was most likely a peculiar species. Sloane (Voyage, ii. 297), after describing what he calls the "great maccaw" (A. ararauna), which he had seen in captivity in that island, mentions the "small maccaw" as being very common in the woods there, and P. H. Gosse (Birds of Jamaica, p. 260) gives, on the authority of Robinson, a local naturali.,t of the last century, the description of a bird which cannot be reconciled with any species now known, though it must have evidently been allied to the Cuban A. tricolor. alike; the lustreless white eggs are laid in hollow trees, usually two at a time. The birds are gregarious but apparently monogamous. (A. N.)

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