When you think of a macaw, you may picture a brightly-colored, talking bird. Macaws are very colorful parrots that can imitate a wide range of sounds, including human speech.

Scarlet macaw

Scarlet macaw

There are 17 species of macaw. In the wild, macaws inhabit the rainforests of South America. They make their nests in holes in trees, as well as on banks and cliffs. They can live in flocks of 10-30, or smaller family groups, or even pairs. Being groups help protect them from predators, like larger birds or snakes.

Macaws are specially adapted for their environment. They have curved beaks with enough strength to crack open nuts and seeds. Their wings and body shape help them fly through their forest homes at up to 100 km/h (60 mph). Even their trademark bright feathers are helpful. Their color helps them blend in with the leaves and fruit in their trees.

Macaws range in size. The smallest macaw, the Hahn’s macaw is 30-35 cm (12-14 in.) in length with a wingspan of about 15-20 cm (6-8 in.). The largest macaw (and largest parrot in the world) is the hyacinth macaw, which measures 1 m (40 in.) in length with a wingspan of about 1.2 m (4 ft.).

What Macaws Eat

Macaw groups travel together in the morning and afternoon to forage for food. They eat fruit, seeds, nuts, and grains. They also eat insects.

In between foraging, macaws stay together to vocalize and preen their feathers. Their natural call sounds like a shrill scream. These calls help them check in with each other, alert for danger, or play.

Hyacinth macaws

Group of hyacinth macaws in Brazil.

Macaw Reproduction

Macaw pairs, who partner for life, breed during the wet season, which is November to April. Not every pair produces an egg, but those that do lay 1-4 eggs per season. Female macaws spend most of the time sitting with eggs and being fed by the male. After less than a month of incubation, the eggs hatch. Baby macaws, called fledglings, stay with their parents for 1.5 years.

Macaws can live up to 50 years old in the wild.

Conservation Status

There are several species of macaw whose populations are at risk. The biggest threat to macaws is habitat loss, but hunting and trapping also contribute to declining populations.

Macaw Resources

About the Author

P.A. Smith is a middle school Language Arts teacher. He is also a contributing editor of My House Rabbit.