The Scarlet Macaw lives high in the trees of lowland deciduous or tropical evergreen forests that are solid or patchy.
This macaw graces forest canopies from Mexico to central South America. In Costa Rica, it is more common on the Pacific slope than the Carribbean.
Corcovado National Park, Carara National Park, and Palo Verde National Park.
This brilliantly colored, medium-sized macaw is the only macaw found on the Pacific side of Costa Rica, and it rarely flies on the Caribbean side, where the Great Green Macaw lives. Macaws are the largest parrots in the Americas, and the Scarlet Macaw is distinct both in color and shape. This bird cannot be confused with any other in Costa Rica: its tail feathers are long and pointed, and its wings short for its large body. It has a large powerful bill for cracking tough seed coats and nuts. Bright red feathers cover the back, head, and lower tail feathers; bold blue spreads across the wings and lower back, with large strips of bold yellow above them. The conspicuous facial skin is pinkish white, and the bill ivory and black. Both sexes of these birds have adult plumage from a young age.
With strong wings, the scarlet macaw noisily flies high over the canopy such as in Corcovado National Park; their travels may range far both daily and seasonally. Their loud, resonant, boisterous calls can often be heard as they fly, but they are usually quiet while feeding. Pairs, trios, or small family groups are often seen, but these may sometimes merge into flocks of 25 or even 50 individuals at large roosts in tall trees or mangroves.
The Scarlet Macaw nests in large holes in tall living or dead trees; they do not dig these holes, but rely on finding cavities that are high off the ground and have vertical entrances. Finding enough of such trees can be a limiting factor for these birds to maintain populations in an area, especially because some bee species occupy the same kind of tree cavity. A macaw pair will lay 1-2 eggs per season in such a nest and raise them together. These macaws are serially monogamous, but they may change mates after several seasons.
In 1900, these parrots could still be seen in forests throughout Costa Rica; by 1950, however, due to habitat destruction, they were absent from the Caribbean slope except in the Northwest. They have also suffered from the pet trade; fortunately, today they are protected in every country in which they live. However, in Costa Rica, their populations still have been reduced by the destruction of their habitat. They are now constrained to the forests of the upper Golfo de Nicoya, such as in Palo Verde National Park, and the forests of the Osa Peninsula, such as at Corcovado National Park.
This macaw largely forages in the canopy, eating large seeds, fruits and nuts in trees. Their favorite food, at least in Costa Rica, is the almost-ripe seed of Terminalia catappa. Searching for the almond-sized and almond-shaped seed hidden beneath the tough, fibrous nut, the macaw chips out big chunks of the hard fruit using the sharp edge of its lower mandible; once it hits the nut, it slices through the outer fruit and picks out its meal. These can be rapid foragers: a flock of 10 birds can carpet the ground with three hundred of these fruits in a single hour as they look for the seeds.
An adult Scarlet Macaw is 84 cm long and weighs 900 g.
Skutch, Alexander F. and F. Gary Stiles. A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica. Utica: Cornell University Press,1989.
Stiles, F. G. in: Janzen, Daniel H. Costa Rican Natural History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983.
-Amy Strieter, Wildlife Writer