Macaws are beautiful, brilliantly colored members of the parrot family. Many macaws have vibrant plumage. The coloring is suited to life in Central and South American rain forests, with their green canopies and colorful fruits and flowers. The birds boast large, powerful beaks that easily crack nuts and seeds, while their dry, scaly tongues have a bone inside them that makes them an effective tool for tapping into fruits.
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. Macaws are native to Central America and North America (only México), South America, and formerly the Caribbean. Most species are associated with forests, especially rainforests, but others prefer woodland or savannah-like habitats.
The macaw has a large and powerful beak which means that the macaw can break the shells of nuts and seeds more easily. Like other species of parrot, macaws have four toes on each foot, with two toes facing forward and two toes facing backward. This foot adaptation helps the macaw to grip onto prey and tree branches more easily and allows the macaw to perch in the trees without slipping off.
The macaw is an omnivorous animal and feeds on nuts and fruit in the trees along with insects, eggs and small mammals and reptiles. The macaw is known to sleep during the night meaning that the macaw is a diurnal animal, and in the morning the macaw will often fly long distances in order to find food. Some foods eaten by macaws in certain regions in the wild are said to contain toxic or caustic substances which they are able to digest. It has been suggested that parrots and macaws in the Amazon Basin eat clay from exposed river banks to neutralize these toxins. In the western Amazon hundreds of macaws and other parrots descend to exposed river banks to consume clay on an almost daily basis.
The majority of macaws are now endangered in the wild and a few are extinct. The Spix’s macaw is now probably extinct in the wild. Theglaucous 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 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).
Macaws are known to be intelligent and very sociable birds and macaws can often be seen together in large flocks of up to 30 macaw individuals. Macaws communicate between one another using loud vocal calls such as squawking and screaming. Some species of macaw are even known to be able to mimic (copy) human sounds.
The macaw is one of the world’s animals that is known to have the same breeding partner for their whole lives. Macaw couples do not only breed together but they also share their food and help to groom one another. When the female macaw has laid her eggs (typically 2 but more are common), the female macaw sits on her eggs to incubate them while the male macaw hunts and collects food for them both. The macaw chicks hatch after about a month.