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9 Macaw Facts: A Look at These Bright Birds

Macaws belong to the parrot family and are famous for their colorful plumage and long tails. They have robust and curved beaks adapted to their diet, mainly composed of nuts and seeds.
Moreover, they are the giants of the parrot world, able to crack open hard shells. This list of macaw facts will showcase their striking beaks and discerning intellect.

If the macaws’ strong beaks impress you, why not check out our list of the strongest animals in the world?

9 Macaw Facts

macaw side view
Photo by David Clode on Unsplash.

1. Macaws are stunningly colorful birds.

Macaws have striking colors created by pigments in their feathers. Carotenoids give them red, orange, and yellow hues, while melanins produce black and brown. Each macaw species, like red and green macaws or the blue and gold macaw, displays a unique spectrum of colors, making them a natural work of art.

For example, the blue and yellow macaws have azure and gold feathers. Meanwhile, scarlet macaws have red, yellow, and blue patterns, and the hyacinth macaw has cobalt-blue plumage. Despite their brilliant colors, their feathers are a camouflage mechanism, allowing the birds to blend into the surrounding foliage of their habitats.

The brightness of macaw feathers can also indicate its health status. In general, brighter colors suggest a healthier bird. Moreover, a macaw’s facial feather pattern also helps identify individual birds, similar to human fingerprints.

Additionally, macaws use their feathers to communicate. For example, raising or lowering a macaw's feathers can convey different emotions and intentions.

2. Macaws are the largest flying parrots on Earth.

red macaws
Photo by Rodrigo Flores on Unsplash

Belonging to the parrot family, macaws are classified into various species, such as the significant green macaw, the vibrant blue-and-yellow macaw, and the eye-catching red-and-green macaw, all admired for their impressive wingspans. However, in size, the hyacinth macaw reigns supreme as the largest species among them.

Hyacinth macaws are "gentle giants" that can grow up to 39 inches. Despite their size, they remain light enough to fly, weighing between 2.3 to 3.7 pounds. The size of hyacinth macaws is both a spectacle and a survival tool, helping them attract mates and intimidate predators.

3. Macaws are intelligent birds.

Another fascinating macaw fact is that macaws have impressive cognitive abilities. For instance, they can accurately mimic human speech, suggesting they comprehend patterns and context2

Macaws produce distinct sounds to communicate with other birds. They also demonstrate their intelligence in various ways, such as safeguarding food from a possible threat.

Moreover, macaws exhibit emotional intelligence; they can be moody, demand attention, and sulk when ignored. Finally, people can train them to perform simple math, differentiate left from right, and play dead.

4. Macaws can copy human speech.

two macaws on branch
Photo by Christina Victoria Craft on Unsplash

One of the most notable talents of macaws is their ability to mimic human speech. A unique vocal organ called the syrinx enables these birds to produce various sounds, including words and accents.

Interestingly, the ability to mimic speech is a learned behavior. Like human toddlers, these birds learn to replicate sounds by observing and imitating noises in their environment. Although they have limited language comprehension, they are skilled at social interaction—for example, pet macaws bond with their owners by mimicking their speech patterns and inflections.

5. Macaws' beaks can break nuts.

Macaws have strong beaks that can exert a pressure of around 2000 psi, a strength achieved through the beak's structure, the network of muscles that govern it, and the beak-building material called keratin. Likewise, their beaks can crack hard-shelled nuts and fruits, help them climb trees, and defend against potential threats.

Fun macaw fact: Did you know macaws can get bored, too? A bored macaw can destroy its own feathers or chew any piece of wood it can find!

6. Macaws eat clay to help digest food.

macaw's wings
Photo by Agto Nugroho on Unsplash

When a macaw wants help digest food, it turns to a familiar substance: clay. It can balance toxins and is readily available in the jungle. Moreover, it contains sodium and trace minerals such as calcium and magnesium, which help eliminate toxins, allowing macaws to absorb essential nutrients effectively1.

7. Macaws live for a long time.

Besides their colorful feathers, macaws have an impressive lifespan. Some species can live up to 80 years in captivity due to regular meals and health checkups. Meanwhile, they can live from 30 to 50 years in the wild, thanks to their ability to avoid predators and their nutritious diet of fruits, nuts, and seeds.

8. Macaws mate for life.

blue and yellow macaw
Photo by Camilo Ayala on Unsplash

Next on our macaw facts list: Macaws are monogamous birds that often fly close to each other, preen each other, and share meals. Once they have chosen their mate, macaws focus on starting a family. 

A pair of macaws typically lay up to four eggs; both parents keep the eggs warm for a month. During this time, the male macaw brings the female sufficient food while she tends to the eggs until they hatch into macaw chicks.

9. Almost all macaw species are critically endangered.

In the vibrant ecosystems of South America, wild macaws once adorned the heavens with their striking colors. Today, however, some species are fading from these tropical canvases3.

Sadly, the Blue-throated Macaws, Red-fronted Macaws, and Blue-headed Macaws are critically endangered. (Meanwhile, the Scarlet Macaw populations are declining, and the Glaucous Macaw only has fewer than 50 birds left in the wild.) Two human activities contribute to their precarious existence: habitat loss and the illegal bird trade.

Urbanization and deforestation destroy macaw habitats, while the inhumane capture and transportation of macaws for the pet trade results in many birds dying from the journey.

Conservation efforts–habitat preservation, breeding programs, and stronger laws against the pet trade–are crucial to ensure the survival of these magnificent creatures. Some breeding programs, for example, have created hybrids like the Harlequin Macaw, Catalina Macaw, and Camelot Macaw. 

What is your favorite macaw fact? Remember to share it with your friends!

1

Gilardi, J. D., Duffey, S. S., Munn, C. A., & Tell, L. A. (1999). Biochemical functions of geophagy in parrots: Detoxification of dietary toxins and cytoprotective effects. Journal of Chemical Ecology, 25(4), 897-922.

2

Pepperberg, I. M. (1999). The Alex studies: Cognitive and communicative abilities of grey parrots. Harvard University Press.

3

Berkunsky, I., Quillfeldt, P., Brightsmith, D. J., Abbud, M. C., Aguilar, J. M. R. E., Alemán-Zelaya, U., ... & Dear, F. (2017). Current threats faced by Neotropical parrot populations. Biological Conservation, 214, 278-287.

By Mike Gomez, BA.

Mike is a degree-qualified researcher and writer passionate about increasing global awareness about climate change and encouraging people to act collectively in resolving these issues.

Fact Checked By:
Chinny Verana, BSc.

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