Great Green Macaw

Great Green Macaw (Ara ambigua)Spanish name: Guacamayo Verde Mayor (Lapa Verde)

This macaw lives in the canopy of humid lowland rainforest; it can also be found in more open areas where its feeding tree still stands.

From eastern Honduras down to northwestern Colombia and western Ecuador, this bird is found at elevations of up to 600 m or higher.

Physical Description/ Interesting Biology
These intensely colored birds recently became the focus of a desperate protection effort as their flocks dwindled to alarming scarcity. Deforestation has ravished their foraging lands, isolating and reducing the trees they rely upon for food.

These intelligent macaws can live more than 60 years with sufficient foraging grounds, and are a delightful (though rare) burst of color to see crossing gaps in the canopy overhead. The endangered Great Green Macaw is closely related to the Scarlet Macaw and is equally as bright in plumage. They are easily distinguishable because the head, shoulders and back of each species is draped in the color matching their name. The Great Green has a sturdier frame, heavier bill, and shorter tail than the Scarlet Macaw. Adults have a bright red forehead and pale facial skin streaked with red and black feathers. Their wing feathers are a radiant blue, the lower back is a pale blue, and the tail feathers are also scarlet and blue.

Along the Caribbean slope, this macaw migrates searching for the enormous swamp almond tree, Dipteryx panamensis. With their incredibly strong bills, the macaws penetrate the resilient nuts of this tree and rely on it almost entirely for food. They also require the hollow cavities of this tree for nesting and raising their young.

Sometimes this tree is left standing alone in pastures or somewhat open areas; the macaws come in squawking flocks of up to 15, often from far distances. They migrate seasonally according to where they can find fruit, and the trees that they remember and need are far apart and not all within preserved areas (and instead are often on private property). This means that the macaws may arrive to find their food source cut down and find themselves far from another Dipteryx. These birds are widespread but decreasing in number. They usually stay at an area with fruit for a few weeks or months and move on when food becomes insufficient.

This is just one example of many in which the survival of a species depends not simply on living in forest, or even a certain kind of forest, but particularly on another species. In a country like Costa Rica, the total number of 549 Great Green Macaws in 1998 sank to just 210 by the year 2000. The vulnerability of this species reflects the complex ecological repercussions of our actions and how dramatically important it is for us to understand the effects of our actions.

The Great Green Macaw relies heavily on the fruit of the swamp almond tree, Dipteryx panamensis.

Adults reach a length of 79 cm and a weight of 1.3 kg.

Brief Taxonomy
Order: Psittaciformes
Family: Psittacidae

Henderson, Carrol L. Field Guide to the Wildlife of Costa Rica. University of Texas Press, Austin, 2002.
Skutch, Alexander F. and F. Gary Stiles. A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica. Utica: Cornell University Press,1989.

-Amy Strieter, Wildlife Writer