Scarlet Macaws

Scarlet Macaw
Rüdiger Katterwe/EyeEm/Getty Images

The scarlet macaw is regarded by many as the most beautiful member of the parrot family, and it is certainly the most colorful, with its large solid swatches of red, blue, and yellow. It sheer flashiness and dominant personality make it among the most popular of large parrot species as a pet. 

Common Names

The scarlet macaw has no other widely used common names. 

Scientific Name

The taxonomical name for the scarlet macaw is Ara macao.

Many experts define two subspecies: Ara macao cyanoptera, found in Central America, mostly in Belize, Guatemala, Panama, Mexico, and Nicaragua; and Ara macao macao, found in the South America countries of Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela. The Central American scarlet macaw is larger and has more blue than green on its wings than the South American.

Origin and History

Scarlet macaws are native to the tropical rainforest areas of Central and South America. Its preferred habitat is humid evergreen forests at elevations from about 1,000 to 3,000 feet. In the wild, it dwells mostly in the emergent and canopy layers of the trees. 

This species has a very broad natural range, but it is threatened in many areas due to deforestation and illegal trapping for the pet trade. The scarlet macaw is on the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) Appendix 1 list, which forbids the commercial trade of wild birds.

Size

Scarlet macaws grow to an average adult size of 35 inches, from the tip of the beak to the end of the tail feathers. They typically weight between 2 and 3 pounds.  

Average Lifespan

A captive scarlet macaw can live for 80 years or more, though 40 to 50 years is more typical. 

Temperament

Scarlet macaws are extremely intelligent birds, with an abundance of energy and personality, but they need daily socialization and stimulation to tame them and keep them that way.

They can get bored quite easily, so they should be provided with plenty of toys to play with. Handled scarlet macaws can be very affectionate, but potential owners should keep in mind that they, like all macaws, can be rather noisy at times.

Scarlet macaws are idiosyncratic birds that can become fixated on one person if they are not trained when young to socialize with every family member. The impressively large beak is very powerful; this bird may not be a great fit for families with children.

Scarlet Macaw Colors and Markings

One of the most colorful macaw species, scarlets are mostly vivid red with bright yellow and blue edging on their wings. Some birds may have a band of green where the yellow meets the blue. The large eye patch is white, and the bill has a horn-colored upper mandible and a black lower mandible. 

Caring for the Scarlet Macaw

Scarlet macaws have been popular with bird owners for many years, and it's no wonder why—they are beautiful, intelligent, and they make exceptional companions for the right owner.

The scarlet's striking plumage may be what draws many to the bird, but its personality is what keeps them coming back for more. Confident and friendly, scarlets are usually eager to take on tasks such as learning tricks, and some even develop vocabularies of 5 to 10 words.

While these birds are appealing to enthusiasts everywhere, it should be noted that the scarlet macaws are not for everybody and they do best in homes with attentive and experienced owners. They can become aggressive and destructive if not properly trained and socialized, and they need to be worked with daily to maintain the bond between bird and owner.

Potential owners should also be aware that scarlets can be extremely loud. This may make them a questionable choice for those living in apartments or condominiums. Bear in mind that if you have any sensitivity to loud noises, you might want to rethink this particular species. 

While keeping a scarlet does require a bit of work on the part of the owner, most people who own them will agree that their bird is well worth the effort—they are rewarded every day with the bird's companionship and sweet disposition.

A large bird, the scarlet macaw is best suited for a large space and will not thrive in a cage that is too small. It needs a lot of out-of-cage time, and if it doesn't get it, the bird may develop behavioral problems, such as feather-plucking and other forms of self-mutilation. Make sure the cage has large swings and toys.

In the wild, scarlet macaw's live in small groups, and when kept as an individual bird as a pet, it needs a lot of interaction—several hours a day. 

Scarlet macaws, like other types of macaws, are usually sold only at avian specialty pet stores or by breeders. Rescue/adoption agencies may also sometimes have this bird given up by owners unable to care for them. Make sure to do your research before taking a scarlet macaw into your home; it is a great pet for the right owner, but a poor choice for others. 

Feeding the Scarlet Macaw

The best diet for a macaw begins with a good parrot mix that includes formulated foods, a variety of seeds, dried fruits, and nuts. To this base diet, provide plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables on a daily basis. High calcium greens such as kale and spinach are especially important. An all-seed diet is extremely unhealthy for these birds. As with all parrots, avoid chocolate and avocado, which are toxic.

Exercise

Macaws are large birds and need ample space and time to play and stretch their muscles. These are active birds by nature, and providing the means to burn off that energy is crucial. A scarlet macaw should be allowed outside of the cage for at least 2 hours a day (4 or 5 is better) and should also be given plenty of chew toys to help it exercise the powerful beak and jaws. Rugged ties that can take a beating help the jaw muscles while providing an outlet for the chewing instinct. 

If you have the room, a play gym or a cargo net designed specifically for parrots is a great play area for your scarlet macaw. Your scarlet will be far happier if it has the equipment on which to play and climb.

Common Health Issues

Scalet macaws are similar to other parrots in their tendency toward self-mutilation and feather plucking when they are bored or neglected.

And they are susceptible to a variety of nutritional disorders and diseases, such as Macaw Wasting Syndrome (also known as Proventricular Dilation Disease). Parrot fever (Psittacosis) is a well-documented problem, as is PBFD (Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease). 

Overgrown beaks are also sometimes a problem. 

Make sure your bird gets regular examinations by an avian veterinarian in order to maintain its health. 

More Pet Bird Species and Further Research

If the large scarlet macaw interests you, you might also want to consider these other large parrots: