Macaws belong to the parrot family and are identified by their brightly coloured plumage. The plumage colours vary depending on the species of macaw with the typical colours being red, green, blue and yellow. Their colouring is well suited to the Central and South American rain forests where they live. They blend in well with the green canopies and the brightly coloured berries and fruits. They have large powerful beaks that they use to crack open nuts and seeds. Their tongues are scaly and have a bone inside that they can use as a tool for tapping into fruits. Macaws have four toes on each foot with two toes facing backwards and two toes facing forwards. This allows them to be able to grip onto branches better and to perch in trees without slipping off. They have streamlined bodies to enable them to fly through the trees and a long tail.
Macaws range in size depending on the species with the smallest being about 30 cms (11.8 in) in length to 100 cms (39.4 in) with their weight ranging from 129 grams (4.5 ounces) to 1695 grams (3.7 pounds).
The average lifespan of the macaw is 50 – 60 years in the wild.
Macaws are omnivores and feed on a wide variety of ripe and unripe fruits, nuts and seeds, leaves, flowers and also insects and snails, eggs and small reptiles. Some species also specialise in eating the hard fruits and nuts of palm trees. It has been noted that some species of macaws also eat clay which seems to be because some of the seeds they eat contain toxic chemicals and the clay may neutralise the chemicals so the macaw doesn’t get a sore stomach. The macaws will fly long distances in the mornings to find food.
Macaws are native to Central America, South America and Mexico. They live in areas of forest, especially rainforests, grasslands with trees and woodlands.
When adults macaw are ready to mate they will choose one partner which they will stay with for life. This is called a pair bond and this bond is strengthened by preening each others feathers, roosting together and sharing food. Most macaw species breed once a year and the female will lay between 1-4 eggs in a nest inside a hollow of a tree or in a dirt hollow on a cliff face. Only the mother incubates the eggs and the incubation period is 23 to 30 days depending on the species. The fathers job during this time is to bring food to the mother. Once the eggs are hatched both parents will help to feed the chicks. The chicks are helpless when born and need to have the help of their parents until they have grown their flight feathers.
Macaws are very sociable birds and most pairs will join up with other pairs to make a flock of between 10 and 30 birds. This helps to give them protection from predators.
Macaws communicate with each other using vocal calls. They use the calls to communicate within the flock, mark their territory and identify each other, they use screams and squawks.
They will fly as a flock in search of food in the morning, have a bit of a rest and then forage again in the afternoon. Just before sunset they will fly back to their roosting spot and settle down for the night.
They use their beaks like tools to eat seeds and break into hard fruits or nuts. They also quite like to play with other objects they find and may also use them as tools.
Most macaw species like to have a bath and will play and splash around in the water.
Some species of macaw have been known to be able to mimic human sounds.
Macaws stay with their partner for life when they have chosen a mate.
The beak of the macaw is very strong and can crush a brazil nut or a persons knuckle.
The red fronted macaw can fly up to 60 kms (40 miles) an hour, and it such a strong flier that it can fly in a sandstorm.
Blue and Gold Macaws are able to blush when they are excited.