Scarlet Macaw

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Is the Scarlet Macaw right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Red Macaw; Red and Yellow Macaw

Scientific name: Ara macao

The basics:
The Scarlet Macaw is praised by many as the most beautiful of the macaws and, indeed, the most beautiful of the parrots. Smaller and perhaps more nervous than its rival, the Greenwing Macaw, this intelligent and sensitive bird demands kind, supportive care from loving, intuitive owners.

A fearful Scarlet can be a biting Scarlet, so be prepared to get the proper training in how to handle this gorgeous bird in order to make your pet feel safe and loving. They can be affectionate and engaging, or they can be temperamental terrors. It's pretty much up to you.

The natural range of the Scarlet Macaw extends from Central America to the northern regions of South America. They have adapted to living in a variety of habitat types that include open wooded areas, dry forests, and deciduous forests. Despite their intelligence and adaptability, the Central American population is in freefall because of widespread deforestation and the illegal trapping of this beautiful bird for the pet trade. The species may be collapsing throughout its range. Know your breeder. If the bird is an older one in need of adoption, know the family and how long they held the Scarlet Macaw. Do not tolerate bird thieves or smugglers. As pet owners who have enjoyed years of pleasure from this species, we have responsibility to protect this beautiful bird for future generations.

The Scarlet is one of two classic red macaws. Besides being smaller than the Greenwing, the Scarlet is easily identified by its bare face with no bright red feather lines on it and, of course, its lovely red, yellow, and blue wings unmarked by any wide green patch.

1060 - 1120 grams (37 - 39.5 oz.)

Average size:
85 centimeters (33.5 in.)

50+ years

Behavior / temperament:
Ah, the lovely and sometimes moody Scarlet Macaw. Some pet owners swear by 'em, and some pet owners swear at 'em. We have all observed well-trained Scarlets in public shows that go to anyone, and yet we have equally observed biting, bitter birds that make their owners tear out their hair. The Scarlet Macaw may not be a chatty bird that talks as much as an African Grey, but if you consider it to be just as intelligent and sensitive, you are on the path to true understanding. A Scarlet Macaw has a strong pair bond and the capacity to become very attached to the caregiver, so start young, educate yourself on the best ways not to be intimidated by a macaw beak, and spend plenty of time bonding with your pet every day.

If your Scarlet has an issue with biting, a consultation with a bird behaviorist could really turn your relationship around. Be aware that a hormonal Scarlet Macaw might bite its chosen mate when someone else comes into the room -- not out of anger but out of an instinctive need to drive the mate away from a rival. Being aware of this one behavior, so that you can quickly distract your Scarlet with a chew toy before your spouse or child enters the room, could head off a lot of biting problems right there. But if you have any hint that your Scarlet may be phobic or dominating, there's simply no substitute for a live consultation with a more knowledgeable macaw trainer. These birds have the potential to become magnificent pets, so don't short-change the Scarlet or yourself.

A single Scarlet Macaw needs a huge, specialty cage that accommodates the long, graceful tail. A good minimum sized primary cage would be 40"w x 30"d x 60"h with no more than 1-1/2" bar spacing. Many captive Scarlets rarely or never fly, so it's more important to have room to encourage them to climb than to worry about a long horizontal flight. The cage should be a professionally constructed, powder-coated metal. Cheap wooden fittings and perches will be chewed-up matchsticks in less than a day. You should employ stout manzanita perches in areas where you do not want to change the perches very often. You should also have plenty of macaw-safe perches and toys for the bird to chew at will. Do not punish the bird for chewing these items to destruction, since you want your pet to chew them for good healthy exercise. Yes, you'll go through a lot of toys. A Scarlet Macaw is not a cheap date, and this pet will expect you to lavish some money on its lifestyle.

It is very important with a parrot of this size to provide a large playpen area that is away from the cage -- NOT on top of the cage. At times, especially during hormonal surges, your Scarlet Macaw can become very territorial about its cage, and you will want to have plenty of practice moving the bird to neutral territory where the macaw can play without feeling obligated to defend the area. They are powerful birds, and you want to establish yourself as kind but in control of the relationship from the very beginning. If you allow yourself to be intimidated, a Scarlet can sometimes become aggressive. Indeed, some Scarlets have gained an unfortunate reputation for biting. These birds go in pairs or, perhaps, small family groups in the wild, and it is not natural for them to spend a lot of time alone. If you must set up the bird in an outdoor aviary removed from the family, talk to another macaw breeder and then carefully go through the appropriate steps to set up the bird with a friend or a mate. An outdoor aviary needs to be carefully designed to protect your birds from thieves, nuisance animals that can threaten a bird such as raccoons, and special netting to protect from mosquito-borne disease. An added twist is that these strong, intelligent birds might figure out a way to let themselves out of the aviary and then become confused or lost. Before you design the aviary, talk to someone who has done it before.

Like the other South American macaws, the Scarlet Macaw demands a varied, nutrient-rich diet that includes lots of fruits, vegetables, and protein sources. There are several diets that work for this species. A good pellet-based diet, with lots of chopped vegetables and fruits on the side, can be a good daily diet, but take care that this intelligent bird does not get bored with the pellets. Soak-and-cook, either from a vet or a commercial supplier, can be the answer, although it's more work than pellets.

Many people like to create their own grain and legume based diet, which generally includes a mix of well-cooked beans and grains, including brown rice. As a practical matter, you will probably want to prepare the cooked diet in large batches, freezing what you're not using in a couple of days, and then defrosting it as you need it. Small, high carbohydrate seeds like millet can be included in the mix. Don't laugh. Macaws do have the patience to crack tiny millet seed, and these seeds are low in fat, so if you have an overweight bird, you can still allow them the pleasure of cracking seed, without loading them down with lots of fat. Unless the bird is very overweight, the Scarlet Macaw will benefit from up to 20% nuts in the diet, especially nuts in the shell that the bird can enjoy cracking for itself. A well-socialized Scarlet Macaw may want to help you eat your dinner, which is fine if you eat a healthy diet that's rich in vegetables and whole grain, but never allow a macaw to sample avocado, chocolate, or undercooked meat or poultry. While several species of macaws, including the Scarlet, have been seen at the clay licks taking salt, today's modern diets already have plenty of salt. Don't salt the macaw's food or provide supplemental salt except on the advice of an avian vet.

Written by Elaine Radford


beautiful scarlet macaw, colorful feathers, loving companion, intelligent birds, huge vocabulary


sexual maturity, scarlet macaw SCREAMS, plucker, extremely large cages, Overall cost, oneperson birds


contemplative, bonding, ideal performers, long life, daily interaction

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