The Real Macaw
Endangered Tropical Jewels

Some are big, some are small. They wear feathered coats of amazing colors, or drab plumage that wouldn’t turn a head. Some are loud and raucous, others remarkably mellow. They are the world’s macaws — long tailed parrots that are both greatly beloved — and terribly endangered. And, for the most part, poorly understood.

Macaws are the world’s largest parrots. There are 17 different kinds, ranging in size from the magnificent cobalt-blue hyacinth, which can weigh in at 3 pounds, to the petite Hahns, which might weigh just a tenth as much. Whatever their size, however, macaws are marked by long, graceful tails that can be longer than their bodies. And, in general, larger macaws are more brightly colored than their smaller cousins.

Macaws can be found throughout Central and South America, from wet tropical rainforests to dry scrub lands. But many species prefer to be near rivers or streams; indeed, some of the most famous macaw-watching spots are muddy banks, where macaws apparently gather to harvest minerals and salt from the soil.

For heftier meals, macaws tackle everything from fruit and nectar to seeds and nuts. Often, they will forage over vast distances to find trees flush with ripe pickings. And they can be choosy about nesting sites, taking time to find just the right cavity in a tree or bank.

Scientists, however, know remarkably little about macaw family life. Some believe they mate for life, and produce just a few young a year. Some may live for 60 years or more.

Increasingly, however, they aren’t getting the chance. Habitat loss and hunting are taking a terrible toll. While a few of the 17 macaw species are still abundant, more than half a dozen are considered critically threatened or endangered. There are believed to be less than 3,000 hyacinth macaws in the wild, for instance, and less than 1,000 red-fronted and blue-throated macaws. Just a single Spix’s macaw may still be in the wild. The glaucus macaw is probably already extinct.

Conservationists are racing the clock to prevent that fate from overtaking other macaws. They are monitoring populations and weighing chicks — often working high in dangerous treetops. Others are recording habits and behavior, looking for clues to designing better protection strategies or reserves. Its often exacting, but necessary, work. “Unless we understand their wild biology,” says macaw expert Charles Munn, who is featured in NATURE’s The Real Macaw “we may not be able to avoid the extinction of species after species of these spectacular New World parrots.”

  • Renee

    I live with two Greenwings Macaws and a Congo African Grey and frequently have a Blue & Gold Macaw and male Eclectus visit. All of the parrots have their own special personalities and display a wide range of vocalizations, likes/dislikes, fears, desires, favorite toys/snacks/people/activities and sounds unique to each individual bird.
    I am constantly surprised and amazed by all of them. Each macaw can crack a Brazil nut with little effort and then peel a grape with the most nimble and delicate maneuvers. I’ve had fun and noisy “parties” with them in the shower, had them gently preen my eyelashes and other times slice through one of my fingernails when they were frightened or angry.
    The longer I live with these creatures, the more respect I have for each one and the species. Every single day, I am reminded of their intelligence, uniqueness, fierceness and unusual abilities.

  • Abbey Hudson

    These poor birds need your help. They are suffering through territorial places to try their best to protect themselves. THEY NEED YOU!!

  • Hannah

    Macaws are picturesque birds but endagered at the cost of us ruining their habitat’s and capturing them illegaully … Please help!!!

  • Angela

    Most macaw species are now extinct. Hopefully, we will try to preserve and respect the macaw species we currently share Earth with.

  • Ryan from Michigan

    i have a blue and gold he’s my closest friend. if it was possible i’d drop everything and fly down there and help with conservation. its out of the question and it breaks my heart to know as we speak some poor parrot is probably being trafficed or murdered. poor creatures. damn us all to hell

  • kate

    I love macaws!!!!!

  • Bob Kaegi

    Being involved in Parrots and Parrot Rescue for almost 30 years I have seen the good, the bad, and the unimaginable things that one could witness. Parrots who have become no more than a throw away item in captivity. Daily there are birds being given up for many reasons. Some end up being handed over to family after family. Some in Very good rescues. and some are not so lucky. Again man has created the demise for many species of these beautiful intelligent creatures. The Spix Macaw, The Saint Vincent Amazon are only a few on the brink. But in countries where these birds are kept as pets we need to stop the breeding of these wonderful animals for money.

    There are so many who lose their homes daily, Adoption for many of these birds is the only way from them being euthanized like dogs and cats who are no longer wanted. For those of the few remaining species on the brink of disappearing, must have lands protected and given space to re populate unhindered by man.

    It is up to each and one of us to do what we can to ensure the survival of the earths wild. We are only here on the planet for a short time. It’s not what I do that matters, It’s only what I leave behind that does. Adopt! Don’t Shop

  • Shauna

    The comments from the bird owners nearly had me in tears. I understand both the ultimate respect for these amazing birds, and the devotion they can give to us. My African Grey was one of the absolute joys of my life. Angel would give me soft ‘kisses’, delicately hold & peel that thin skin off grapes with her powerful beak, and I wear 2 scars on my lips from a once terrified bird. She ruled over 3 dogs&cats, never hurting them, playing instead, but always had the last word. Literally. They think, feel, make decisions. Personalities, moods, volume, all reflected in their talking. From words learned as baby bird, then full sentences, to answering an imaginary (yet perfect) ringing phone in my voice, engaging in a complete one-sided conversation and ending with the perfect little “beep” to hang up; I was continually amazed. To think these creatures are rolled inside anything that works and smuggled across miles to be sold- tears at my heart. I too would go in a flash if I could to assist in endangerment/extinction prevention.

    Buying your birds from a local, respected breeder is what we can do and promote wherever we are. Pet stores & large retailers of pets are not selling babies with parents on site. Be aware of where any bird is from!!

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