Macaws are New World parrots that belong to the true parrot family Psittacidae. Thanks to their bright color and vocal nature, they are some of the most popular birds in aviculture. They range throughout Central and South America and parts of the Caribbean. You can find them in rainforests and woodlands, although some species can no longer be found in the wild. Here is a list of 10 incredible macaw facts demonstrating what makes these birds so cool.
10. Macaws Come in a Range of Varieties
Researchers classify macaws as true parrots, which means they belong to the same family as other well-known birds such as the grey parrot and cockatoo. Like parrots at large, they come in various shapes, colors, and sizes that distinguish them from one another. Unsurprisingly, some macaws look as different from each other as they do from other parrot species.
In total, roughly 19 species of macaw exist, although you can no longer find some species in the wild. These 19 species belong to six different genera, including the most well-known and common, the Ara. Among the Ara, you will find such notable birds as the blue-and-yellow macaw and the scarlet macaw.
9. Some Macaws Can Mimic Human Language
One of the most well-known macaw facts concerns their amazing vocal abilities. In the wild, macaws are social birds that live in flocks containing 10 to 30 members. Within these groups, macaws constantly squawk at each other. They can create unique vocalizations to mark their territory or identify their mates.
Along with their raucous calls, macaws can also mimic human speech. When air passes through the syrinx at the bottom of a macaw’s trachea, and the macaw manipulates its tongue, it can create sounds that resemble human words. Over time and with enough training or practice, macaws can learn multiple human words, and some can even speak in sentences.
8. Macaws Possess Powerful Beaks
Many birds possess distinctive beaks, from the multi-colored great hornbill to the shovel-faced roseate spoonbill. Macaws also belong to this list of birds with characteristic beaks. They use their large, sickle-shaped beaks to great advantage when eating and looking for food.
A macaw’s powerful beak allows it to bite through the tough outer shells of nuts and seeds. In fact, their beaks are so strong that they can even bite through the shell of a coconut. Given such power, you must be careful when handling a macaw, as they possess enough power to break a person’s finger if they bite down hard enough. In addition to using their beaks to eat, macaws also use their beaks to get around. They utilize their beaks like a third leg to climb trees and reach fruits, nuts, seeds, flowers, or leaves.
7. Macaws Are the Largest Flying Parrots
As previously mentioned, parrots come in an array of shapes and sizes. The smallest parrots, such as the buff-faced pygmy parrot, measure little more than 3 inches long. On the other end of the spectrum, you’ll find the flightless kakapo, the world’s largest parrot measuring over 2 feet long and weighing up to 9 pounds.
While not as large as kakapos in terms of weight, macaws claim the record for the largest flying parrots. The great green macaw, blue-and-yellow macaw, and red-and-green macaw all clock in at impressive sizes and rank among the largest parrots. However, they don’t hold a candle to the largest macaw of them all, the hyacinth macaw. At their largest, hyacinth macaws can reach up to 39 inches long and weigh between 2.3 and 3.7 pounds.
6. Macaws Can Live for a Long Time
As any macaw owner will readily tell you, macaws enjoy exceptionally long lifespans. While different species can live for varying amounts of time, most can live around as long as a human. On average, the lifespan of most macaws tends to hover between 50 and 60 years. That said, macaws in the wild don’t live as long as those in captivity. In the wild, macaws typically live between 30 and 50 years.
Given proper care, some macaw species can live even longer. For example, the scarlet macaw is known to frequently live up to 70 years old and could reach up to 100 years old under the right conditions. However, the unofficial record for the longest-lived macaw belongs to a blue-and-yellow macaw called Charlie. While unverifiable, Charlie reportedly lived to the ripe old age of 114.
5. Macaws Lick Clay to Aid Their Health
One of the oddest macaw facts is up next. In the wild, some macaws frequently eat toxic or corrosive substances. These substances can prove difficult for macaws to digest and can affect a macaw’s health and vitality. To counteract the effects of the toxins, macaws learned to leverage the healing power of nature. Specifically, they learned that they needed to lick clay.
Several species of macaw and other parrots — particularly those in the Amazon Basin — often eat clay. These birds descend to clay licks almost daily to consume clay, particularly clay high in sodium. Clay contains several trace minerals that aid in digestion, including calcium and magnesium. Together, these minerals help macaws absorb nutrients and stay healthy, even when they eat many toxic foods.
4. Numerous Tribes Utilize Macaw Feathers
For thousands of years, many peoples and cultures have utilized bird feathers. Some of the earliest uses for bird feathers include fletching for arrows and ornamental jewelry and headdresses. With their delicate and bright appearance, bird feathers make a suitable medium for creating everything from earrings to cloaks to necklaces.
Given their colorful plumage, it’s no wonder that numerous tribes highly valued macaw feathers. The Inca and Nazca are just a few notable examples of tribes that desired macaw feathers for their bright colors. These tribes would use the feathers in ornaments and include them in rituals and burial sites.
3. Macaws Mate for Life
Our next entry on this list of macaw facts is also one of the sweetest. Aside from humans, numerous species mate for life. Notable examples include the beaver and French angelfish. That said, monogamy is most well-documented in birds. Animals such as penguins, swans, lovebirds, and turtle doves all mate for life in the wild.
You’re likely not surprised to learn that macaws also mate for life. Macaws usually reach sexual maturity around 3 or 4 years old. Once they are sexually mature, they will bond with one mate and remain together for the rest of their lives. Furthermore, bonded macaws spend a great deal of time together, unlike some other birds that mate for life but only get together during the breeding season.
2. Macaws Are Surprisingly Intelligent
As you’re likely already aware, macaws possess a keen intelligence. The most well-understood aspect of their intelligence concerns their vocal abilities. Not only can they mimic human speech, but macaws can also communicate complex messages within their flock and even use individualized sounds when calling to their offspring.
In addition to their incredible vocal abilities, macaws can leverage their intellect in other ways. For example, researchers have found that macaws will hide their food if they fear another bird will steal it from them. They display emotional intelligence rivaling a toddler and can demand attention and sulk if ignored. With enough training, they can even accomplish a wide variety of tricks, such as doing simple math, playing dead, bowing, and telling left from right.
1. Many Macaw Species Are Endangered
Our final entry on our list of macaw facts is also one of the saddest. Despite their popularity, and perhaps because of it, many macaw species have not been able to sustain large numbers in the wild. Due to threats ranging from poaching to habitat loss and pollution, numerous macaws face extinction in the wild. Already, several species have completely disappeared from their natural range and now only exist in captivity. Currently, the IUCN lists several macaw species as Vulnerable, such as the hyacinth macaw, or Critically Endangered, like the glaucous macaw.
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