Parrots of the world come in many shapes, colors, and sizes, but there are few as eye-catching as the exotic macaw parrot species.
Watching these glorious birds in flight is one of nature’s greatest highlights, but there is much more to them than meets the eye.
Here are 50 cool facts about the magnificent macaw parrots.
1. Macaws Are the Largest Flying Parrot Species on Earth
Macaws measure between 11.8-39 inches, but the largest of all Macaw species – the stunning cobalt-blue hyacinth macaw – stands at an impressive 3 feet 3 inches (1 meter) from head to tail tip.
2. Their Colorful Plumage Ensures Their Survival in the Wild
Thanks to rainbow feathers of green, blue, red, and yellow, many macaw species can skillfully camouflage among the foliage and bright plants in the rain forests of South and Central America.
This also helps them to blend in with the vivid fruits and flowers of their diet.
3. They Possess the Largest Wingspan of All Parrots
The blue-and-gold macaws have a wingspan stretching 3 feet 9 inches while the larger hyacinth macaw boasts a 4-foot wingspan.
This is equivalent to the length of an average 7-year-old child!
4. Their Facial Pattern Is As Unique as a Human Fingerprint
A macaw’s trademark facial patch of white skin and black feather stripes (observed mainly in the scarlet and blue-and-gold species) are unique in each bird.
These tiny irregular lines of black feathering make their facial patterns as distinct as a human fingerprint.
5. They Are One of the World’s Most Expensive Pets
Due to its vulnerable status, the hyacinth macaw is the most expensive parrot on the planet, costing $10,000 for a young Macaw and up to $40,000.
The size of aviary these birds require alone makes them one of the most expensive pets to keep.
6. A Macaw’s Scream Can Register at 106 Decibels
In an experiment conducted by parrot behavioral consultant and lifelong macaw owner Kashmir Csaky, the alarm calls of her hyacinth macaw reached 106 dB.
This is equivalent to a large lawnmower or jet take-off at 1,000 feet.
7. Some Macaws Eat Clay To Add Salt in Their Diet
A lack of salt in their environment caused by the Andes blocking salty air from the Pacific has led to red-and-green macaws flocking in the hundreds to feed on the clay of exposed river banks in the western Amazon basin.
8. Macaws Can Blush When Excited or Anxious
The bare, white facial skin patches of many macaw species can turn pink in response to certain emotions.
Ethologist Aline Bertin witnessed “rapid changes in the skin color” of captive-bred macaws “when their zoo caretaker engaged with them.”
9. The Last Wild Macaw in Rio Shares a Shakespearean Love
The last remaining wild macaw in Rio, known as “Juliet,” is believed to have a soulmate living in Rio’s Zoological Garden nearby.
Local behavioral experts have observed Juliet bonding with her caged “Romeo” for the past 20 years – whistling and sharing seeds through the aviary fence.
10. Their Calls Can Be Heard Up to 5 Miles Away
The vocalizations of the macaw species can be heard from 5 miles away.
While this enables wild macaws to communicate with their flock across the dense forests of South and Central America, it doesn’t bode well for those living in apartment buildings.
11. Macaws Will Mate for Life & Display Affection
Macaws will stay with their chosen mate until death.
When they are not rearing their young, they maintain a close relationship by preening each other and sharing food and have been known to fly close together within the flock so that their wings are touching.
12. Winston Churchill and Theodore Roosevelt Owned Pet Macaws
The former British prime minister and the 26th president of the United States both enjoyed the company of macaws.
Roosevelt grew up with blue-and-gold macaw “Loretta” and hyacinth macaw “Eli Yale,” and Churchill kept a blue-and-gold named “Charlie.”
13. Even Macaws Have Suffered Lockdown Boredom Over Covid-19
When the Discovery Place Science museum in Charlotte, North Carolina was forced to close due to Covid, “BJ,” the resident blue-and-gold macaw, felt the sting of boredom and irritation due to a lack of visitors, so museum staff did their best to make sure she was still center of attention!
14. They Communicate Emotions by Fluffing Specific Facial Feathers
Macaws with white facial skin and black feather striping can erect or sleek back these feathers to indicate emotional cues in social contexts.
While studies into this are at an early stage, experts believe this is a macaw’s version of facial expression in the absence of facial muscles.
15. The Spix’s Macaw Is the Rarest Parrot Species in the World
The blue Spix’s macaw has been officially declared extinct in the wild since 2000, and as of 2021, there are only around 160 existing in captivity.
There is currently a breeding program underway to reintroduce approximately 100 individuals into their native Brazil.
16. Wild Macaws Regularly Consume Toxic Seeds
The diet of the wild macaw sees them eat almost any plant or fruit seed they can get their beaks on, even though some are technically poisonous.
Biologist Dr. Charles Munn believes they counteract the fatal effects by “spending hours at a clay and mineral lick along a riverbed” to counter the alkaloid-loaded seeds.
17. Macaws Have a Lifespan of Around 60 Years
On average, most macaw species have a potential lifespan of around 60 years, though they tend to live between 30 and 35 years in the wild.
Their lifespan in captivity is typically between 30 and 50 years, depending on the level of care.
18. The Film-Makers Behind Rio Danced With a Macaw for 4 Hours
The 2011 animated movie Rio took its inspiration from the hyacinth macaw.
To observe their behavior, the camera crew was forced to dance with “Gucci” the hyacinth macaw for around four hours – who refused to dance unless everybody joined in!
19. Their Bite Force Is More Powerful Than a Rottweiler’s
The macaw has a biting force estimated between 500 and 700 PSI (Pounds Per Square Inch), much greater than the fierce bite of a Rottweiler (around 328 PSI).
A macaw is capable of cracking coconut shells and can even break finger bones as a defensive last resort.
20. Macaws Have a Bone Inside Their Tongues
A macaw’s tongue contains several bones known as the hyoid apparatus, which branch off into a Y shape near the tip.
This strange structure gives their tongue the perfect balance of dexterity and rigidity to help them break into fruit and tough seeds.
21. Some Macaws Can Fly Up to 40 Miles Per Hour
Macaws are generally fast fliers so that they can scan for food above the rain forest canopy and evade large eagles.
Scarlet macaws can fly at speeds of 35 mph, while the Bolivian-native red-fronted macaw is known to fly around 40 mph (64 km).
22. Wild Macaws Will Give “Names” to Each Family Member
The highly intelligent macaw can attribute unique vocalizations or “names” to specific members in their flock so that chicks can recognize and reproduce these calls later.
This explains why macaws are such great human mimics too.
23. Macaws Sometimes Fly in a Mixed-Species Flock
While captive macaws do not get along well with others in their species, wild macaws will occasionally travel in multi-species flocks for greater safety against predators.
They have also been observed living and roosting in multi-species communities.
24. The Name “Macaw” Originates From the Food They Eat
The name macaw is thought to derive from the Portuguese word macau, which itself originates from the Brazilian word tupi macauvuana said to refer to a type of palm tree containing the fruit macaws eat.
25. Macaws Forage in Cattle Fields To Eat Nut “Droppings”
Macaws enjoy feeding on hard and unripe palm nuts, and some will even forage in cattle fields to get them.
Because palm nuts are pretty tough, they look for ones that have first passed through the cattle’s digestive system which removes the nut’s hard coating.
26. They Can Cover Up to 100 Miles Every Day
Large species, such as the hyacinth macaw, can fly between 50 and 100 miles (80-160 km) each day in search of food.
While they prefer to forage within their territory, macaws are forced to fly longer distances during the rain forest’s dry season when food is scarce.
27. The Scarlet Macaw Is the National Bird of Honduras
The striking rainbow-colored scarlet macaw is recognized as the national bird of Honduras.
In tribute to them, Hondurans even celebrate National Scarlet Macaw Day on June 28th and locals can observe the spectacular free flight of macaws over the Mayan ruins of Copan, West Honduras.
28. Macaw Tail Feathers Were Offered as Tribute by Ancient Aztecs
During the Meso-American era, Aztec leaders prized the beautiful, bold tail feathers of the scarlet macaw and would present them in tribute to the capitals of the empire.
Their tail feathers were also used in ceremonial clothing during the period.
29. The Smallest Macaw Species Is Dwarfed by a Cockatiel
According to the American Federation of Aviculture, the Hahn’s macaw is the world’s smallest macaw parrot.
Standing at only 12-14 inches tall, these “mini macaws” are smaller even than the giant cockatiel, which measures around 15-16 inches.
30. All 17 Species of Macaw Are Listed as “Under Threat”
Sadly due to rampant deforestation and illegal trapping within the pet trade, all 17 macaw species have now been red-listed as a threatened species according to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature).
31. Macaws Were Imported as Early as 900 AD
A research team from Pennsylvania State University examined the DNA of scarlet macaws from an archaeological site in Mexico and discovered something incredible – they were not wild caught but bred for trade by Native Americans in the region as far back as 900 AD.
32. There Are 35 Macaw Crossbreeds or Hybrids
Three generations of cross-breeding macaws for color has led to 35 beautiful hybrids in their own right, producing some of the most stunning rainbow color variations, including the popular harlequin macaw, Maui sunset macaw, and lush-green emerald macaw.
33. Macaws Are Multiple World Record Holders
In recent years, macaws have set numerous Guinness World Records, including Most Rings Paced on a Target in 1 Minute (19 by “Skipper Blue” in 2016), Most Slam Dunks in 1 minute (22 by “Zack” in 2011), and Most Canned Drinks Opened in 1 Minute (35 – also by Zack in 2012).
34. One Macaw Species Is Named After British Poet Edward Lear
British poet and artist Edward Lear, author of The Owl and the Pussy Cat, had the honor of having the Lear’s Macaw named after him.
Lear was a life-long parrot enthusiast and regularly produced lithographic drawings of the hyacinth Macaw, among other species.
35. The Oldest-living Macaw Lived To Be 120 Years Old
The oldest living parrot was a 120-year-old blue-and-gold macaw named Charlie, who was incidentally also Winston Churchill’s pet parrot!
Following Churchill’s death in 1965, Charlie lived in a pet shop before enjoying her retirement in a Surrey nursing home.
36. The Harlequin Macaw Is the Most Popular Macaw Subspecies
With a rich reddish-orange, blue-and-green plumage and gentle temperament, the harlequin macaw (a hybrid of the blue-and-gold & green-wing macaw) is considered to be the best of both worlds.
They possess all the majesty of large macaws with a laid-back personality, making them ideal for family homes.
37. Severe Macaws Are the Best Talkers of the Macaw Species
The severe or chestnut-fronted macaw is considered to be the best talker among the macaw species.
While prone to screams and loud morning calls, the severe macaw is well-loved among parrot owners for their impressive clarity, humorous high-pitched voice, and extensive vocabulary.
38. Macaws Only Have Around 100 Taste Buds
In comparison to 10,000 human taste buds and the majority of parrot species having between 350-400 taste buds, macaws only possess about 100.
While they can detect sour, sweet, and bitter flavors, they rely mostly on the texture of their food to denote quality.
39. Hyacinth and Lear’s Macaws Have Helped to Grow a Forest
A 2020 study observed the seed dispersal activity of the blue hyacinth and Lear Macaws, which throughout 1,700 recorded events saw the birds plant the seeds of up to 18 different plant species in their native Brazil and Bolivia.
40. One Macaw Solved a 1 Hour Puzzle in Under 30 Seconds
In 2008, a female blue-and-gold macaw named “Ten” perplexed visitors of a botanical garden in suburban Tokyo by completing a complex chain puzzle in less than 30 seconds.
The puzzle of two entangled metal chains normally takes humans around an hour to solve!
41. Macaws Can Travel in Flocks of Nearly 30 Individuals
Macaws tend to fly in flocks of 10-20 individuals, but in what is surely one of the most arresting sights in the natural world, a record 29 scarlet macaws were observed in flight together over the forest canopy of Maya Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala in 2011.
42. Macaws Powerful Beaks Are Nature’s Can Opener
Macaw beaks were designed to crack open tough seeds, which explains why many owners find their bird effortlessly manipulating tough man-made items with ease.
“My blue-throated Macaw Harry can unscrew things I’ve used tools to tighten and I’ll occasionally find his cage door on the floor,” shares one forum member.
43. Green-Winged Macaws Appear on Brazilian Banknotes
In 2010, the Bank of Brazil issued several banknote designs which remain in circulation today, one of which included the green-winged macaw on the R$10 note ($2 US).
Despite the hunting and trapping of macaws in the country, Brazilians still hold this magnificent bird in high regard.
44. Macaws Are Thought To Be Sensitive to Human Emotion
Genome sequencing of the scarlet macaw has revealed to avian researchers at Texas A&M University that they possess an intellect capable of reading human emotion.
Macaw owners have reported their birds laughing when they do and also receiving kisses from their macaws when they experienced sadness.
45. Brazilian Tribes Once Believed They Could Alter the Color of Macaw Feathers
Around the late 16th century, the natives of South America practiced a method of altering the colors of a red macaw’s feathers.
According to explorer accounts, they would pluck a tail or wing feather, inoculate the wound with the secretion of a toad and observe feathers of yellow, orange, and red growing in its place.
46. Macaws Can Learn Up to 100 Different Words
Macaws are skilled mimics and have demonstrated the ability to pick up around 100 different words and even use them in context (learn more about parrot speech here).
With training, some macaws can learn short phrases and song lyrics too, though mini macaws are not as skilled at speaking in context compared to larger species.
47. Owning a Scarlet Macaw Was Once Viewed as a Power Status Symbol
Early documents concerning the tribal behavior of North American Indians have indicated that certain tribes attached religious and moral significance to the scarlet macaw, stating only Indian guardians – and not people of poor moral character – could own one.
48. Macaws Feature Heavily in Mayan Art and Sculpture
Classic Mayan art and sculpture are adorned with god-like depictions of the macaw.
The likeness of the scarlet macaw in particular has been carved into many artifacts from pottery to statues to goal-post markers in Mayan ball courts.
49. Ancient & Modern South American Tribes Believe Macaws Have Healing and Heavenly Properties
Many South American tribes, including the Pueblo and Zuni people, believed the macaws brought about healing through color and light.
For the Inga tribe of Putamayo, Columbia, a belief is held to this day that macaw parrots are “guardians of the air and winds, carrying prayers to the heavens.”
50. Some Macaws Are Known To Cuddle Owners in Their Wings
Some macaw owners have noted an affectionate, almost human-like trait in their birds when they go to pet them.
Whether the behavior is intentional or not, one macaw owner shared on a forum that her scarlet macaw “snuggles up on my shoulder to my head, and wraps his wing around me as if to hug.”