The Real Macaw Photo Gallery: Discover the Charm of Macaws
The Macaw Mind
>A macaw at the Loro Park in the Canary Islands easily solves a jigsaw puzzle. But it is in the wild that they developed their legendary intelligence. In the jungle macaws must remember the location and fruiting of all the different trees in their home range. And of the 40,000 trees in a square mile of rainforest, only 10 will be fruiting. Each tree fruits for just a couple of weeks and some only once every 5 years.
The macaws' strong beaks are designed to manipulate, cut, shave, and crack a wide variety of nuts and fruits. Their large, fleshy tongues help shell seeds and discard anything inedible. Here, a hyacinth, the biggest of all parrots, with 30 percent of its muscles in its head, readily consumes palm nuts.
A perky macaw playfully hangs on a tree. Ornithologist Charlie Munn describes the varied personalities of macaws: "There are a lot of personality differences between individual parrots which I think is unusual for birds. Some parrots are cheeky and curious by nature -- outgoing, warm. Others are nippy and kind of grouchy. This kind of difference in personality from bird to bird reminds me more of primates rather than birds. Most birds seem pretty similar to one another otherwise I would say."
Macaws are careful to choose the right mate. They can take an entire year to make the choice and another year to cement their pair bond. Many don't start breeding until they are four years old. When the birds finally pair up, they do everything together -- from seeking shelter to rearing their chicks.
Home Sweet Home
Once a pair is established, its first task is to find a nest site. Macaws prefer holes in trees -- particularly natural holes in dead trees. In the Amazon rainforest it's surprisingly hard to find a good site. The trees may be full of holes but very few are deep enough to protect chicks from torrential rain, fierce sun, and predators. Here, a pair of macaws vigorously defends their home.
A group of green wing and scarlet macaws congregate on a clay lick by a river in the jungles of the Amazon. Clay licks are high concentration of minerals that form in river bank clay deposits. Unlike many other parrots, most large macaws don't travel in flocks. Instead they fly to feeding sites with their partners. Macaws are social birds but they like their own personal space and guard their partners jealously.
Macaws gather on clay licks to obtain the hard-to-find minerals that are only present in high concentrations on the lick's soil. The mineral-rich clay acts as a vital antidote to neutralize the toxins in the fruits and seeds that they eat. At times, hundreds of parrots descend on clay licks, screeching and squealing -- creating a racket that can be heard hundreds of feet away.
The main threats to macaws are habitat loss and wildlife trade. The majority of macaws are dependent upon forests, both for food and for shelter. According to World Wildlife Fund, if the rate of deforestation in South and Central America goes unchecked, many of the species of macaws may be lost forever. Parrots are the most threatened species of all the world's bird families, and nearly half of the 17 macaw species are among the most endangered. In the 20th century already one macaw has faced extinction: the glaucus macaw.
The Pet Trade
Macaws have always been extremely popular as pets due to their bright colors and intelligence. The demand for macaws as pets has grown steadily in recent years, and along with it the trade in birds captured from the wild. Every year eight million parrots are captured for the pet trade. Ninety percent will die before they reach a buyer.
Baby Blue Hyacinth
Hyacinths, the largest macaw, are highly desirable because of their size and color. Collectors will pay very high prices for a hyacinth in good condition. This baby hyacinth, only four weeks old, was removed from its nest in a cliff to measure its growth. A few mintues later, the bird was safely returned to the nest. To protect hyacinths, Munn has paid former trappers to give up poaching and instead, help authorities monitor nests.