Macaws are known as the giants of the parrot world, and the hyacinth macaw is the longest parrot, with a head to tail length of nearly 40 inches. Macaws have long tail feathers as well as big beaks. Their large, curved beaks are quite powerful and are designed to crack open hard nuts and seeds. Macaws have a long, streamlined physique and colorful feathering, ranging from the hyacinth macaw, hyacinth blue to the scarlet macaw’s scarlet red coloring. Some macaw species have bare facial patches. Macaws are informally classified into two groups; large macaws, which include those of the Ara and Anodorhynchus (the “blue macaws,” including the hyacinth and critically endangered Lear’s macaw) genus, and the much smaller mini macaws, which include macaws of the Diopsittaca, Orthopstittaca and Primolius genus.
Macaws are native to the southern portion of North America (Mexico), Central America, South America, and there is evidence that the Caribbean also had native macaw species, which are now extinct, such as the Saint Croix macaw.They inhabit rain forests, as well as more grasslands and grassy woodland-type areas. Macaws, and other parrot species, native to the Amazon basin, such as Peru, have been observed eating from clay licks (clay from the exposed river bank), which researchers believe is a way for the parrots to neutralize toxins found in some of the foods they consume in the wild.
Macaws are intelligent, social birds that often gather in flocks of 10 to 30 individuals. Their loud calls, squawks, and screams echo through the forest canopy. Macaws vocalize to communicate within the flock, mark territory, and identify one another. Some species can even mimic human speech.
Flocks sleep in the trees at night, and in the morning they may fly long distances to feed on fruit, nuts, insects, and snails. Some species also eat damp soil, which may help to neutralize chemicals in their fruity diet and ease their stomachs.
Macaws typically mate for life. They don’t only breed with, but also share food with their mates and enjoy mutual grooming. In breeding season, mothers incubate eggs while fathers hunt and bring food back to the nest.
There are 17 species of macaws, and several are endangered. These playful birds are popular pets, and many are illegally trapped for that trade. The rain forest homes of many species are also disappearing at an alarming rate.
Hyacinth, red-fronted, and blue-throated macaws are seriously endangered. The glucose macaw and Spix’s macaw may already be extinct in the wild.