Ara macao

Physical characteristics: Scarlet macaws are colorful birds. The macaw's head, tail, and much of its body is red. Wings are blue, green, and yellow. Birds measure 33 inches (85 centimeters) from head to tail. The tail accounts for most of the length. Macaws weigh from 2.1 to 2.2 pounds (1.06 to 1.12 kilograms).

The colorful scarlet macaw lives in southern Mexico, Central America, and northwestern South America. (Robert J. Huffman/Field Mark Publications. Reproduced by permission.)

Geographic range: Scarlet macaws are found in southern Mexico and in Central American countries including Guatemala and Costa Rica. They also range in northwestern South American countries like Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.

Habitat: Macaws live in evergreen, coniferous forests and other wooded areas like deciduous forests.

Diet: Macaws eat berries, seeds, fruit, nuts, and flowers. After eating, macaws join other birds at riverbanks. There the birds eat mineralized clay. Scientists think that birds do this to stop the effect of being poisoned by unripe fruit and other dangerous plants.

Behavior and reproduction: Macaws travel in pairs and fly close to each other. Pairs may be part of a family group or a flock of up to twenty birds. Birds look for food during the day and roost in trees at night.

Birds in the north nest in March and April. The season lasts from October through March in the south. Females usually lay one or two eggs. Sometimes there is a clutch of four eggs.

Scarlet macaws and people: While macaws screech to keep humans away, people want to own these colorful birds. Macaws are also hunted for food or for their feathers.

Conservation status: Scarlet macaw populations are declining as habitat is destroyed when trees are cut down. Smuggling also reduces the population. In 2003, poachers armed with guns followed biologists in a Guatemala reserve, an area set aside to protect species. The poachers stole macaw eggs, knowing there is a demand for the birds. ■

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