Ara macao cyanoptera - Scarlet Macaws
The spectacular Scarlet Macaws are the largest parrots in Belize, measuring as long as 33 inches from beak to tail. This beautiful bird has a flattish head, the top of which is covered with bright red feathers. Most of its face is a milky white. Its eyes are somewhat small, while its flesh colored beak is quite large and excellent for breaking tough nuts. The bright red plumage covers most of its body, while the bird’s wings are a rainbow of red, yellow and blue feathers.
Perhaps it is because they are so magnificent that they are desired around the world. As a result of poaching for the international pet trade combined with loss of habitat, this irreplaceable bird is close to extinction. The last in-depth survey of the Scarlet Macaw was done in 2002, and indicated there were approximately 100 pairs of birds left in the country.
The Scarlet Macaw population is primarily restricted to the Chiquibul/Maya Mountains area, with the great majority of nesting taking place along a short stretch of the Upper Macal and Raspaculo rivers that form the borderlands between the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve and the more remote Chiquibul Forest. They prefer to spend their time in tall, deciduous trees in forests and near rivers, particularly the yellow flowered Quamwood tree.
They mate for life and often fly in pairs or small groups, calling to each other in noisy boisterous voices. They are fast and can cover large areas, reaching speeds up to 35 miles per hour.
While eating, they often gather together, and during one tour in 2012, a visitor noted 14 birds in one tree along the winding Raspacula River in Cayo District. The birds were in pairs, resting peacefully after a good meal.
Nesting and Mating Habits
The breeding and nesting period extends from January through August and coincides with the dry season in Belize. During late February and early March the macaws hollow out nests in the holes of the Quamwood trees and the tree can be alive or dead. Mated adults lay up to four eggs per year, and preen each other and their offspring for hours, cleaning bugs from their feathers. In 2012, many of the nests monitored by rangers have been found to have three eggs.
The Macaw's strong, hooked beak is perfect for breaking the nuts, leaves, seeds, fruits, flowers and plant shoots it enjoys to eat, and which make up the bulk of the scarlet macaw’s diet. Interestingly, the scarlet macaw can eat fruits toxic enough to kill other animals. This could be because they also eat large amounts of clay, which is thought to neutralize plant poisons.
The primary threats to the scarlet macaw are habitat loss from rainforest destruction and heavy exploitation for pet trading.