Brilliantly colored and impossible to miss when in flight, the Macaws are the largest sized members of the parrot family. Despite their beautiful plumage you can also recognize these birds, often before you even see them, by the shrill and very unique squawk sound they make.
Of the 17 species that reside in Central and South America, only two species—the Scarlet Macaw and the Great Green Macaw—call Costa Rica home. Although they are family, the chance to see them together is very rare as the slightly smaller Scarlet Macaw is commonly found on the Pacific coast with the Great Green Macaw preferring the Caribbean.
Macaws, known in Costa Rica as Lapas, have large pointy beaks that can expel a tremendous amount of pressure and their scaly boned tongue helps them get inside the tough nuts and seeds that are found throughout Costa Rica. They are considered social birds and will be often seen roosting and feeding in large flocks using their unique toe structures to navigate through the branches.
Although monogamous, changing partners on occasion has been recorded in the birds’ 80-year lifespan. A pair will lay at most a couple of eggs each season in ready made cavities in trees. The young have adult plumage and will fledge the nest within approximately 105 days of hatching.
Formerly present in over 85% of the country, (1) the Scarlet Macaws have now almost completely vanished from the Caribbean coast due to the destruction of the birds’ habitat. The Great Green Macaw’s numbers have reduced to an estimated 290 individuals in 2009 (2) and there are believed to be only 25 to 35 breeding pairs left in the country at present date. Both species have been added to the endangered species list. The exploitation of these beautiful birds in the pet trade has also attributed to their reduced numbers and, due to cross-breeding in pet trade circles, almost 20 types of hybrid Macaws exist—a very controversial issue in the birding world.
Fortunately, due to excellent conservation efforts by individuals and small groups, these beautiful birds have been given a second chance and are slowly making a comeback. Most notably, the work of Margot and Richard Frisius has lead to the creation of The Ara Project. This organization has been the forerunner of releasing new populations of macaws in to the wild. They now operate in several parts of the country where they continue their efforts.
Another line of conservation is also giving the Macaws a helping hand and that is the endangered Mountain Almond tree. In 2008, after years as a target for logging due to their unique, hard wood, they were declared illegal to harvest until both tree and bird were no longer endangered.
The Great Green Macaw
Size: 90cm (3 ft) long and 1.3kg (approx 3 lbs) in weight
This Macaw is found exclusively on the Caribbean slopes preferring lowland humid forest and deciduous forest areas reaching up to an elevation of 600m (approx 2000ft.). Not as social as the Scarlet Macaw, they are often seen in pairs and in groups of 3-4. Almost all of their diet is from the almond trees, but they will reluctantly feed on other trees if needed.
The largest flock of wild Green Macaws are found in Sarapiqui and there is a small population of released Macaws in Manzanillo aided by the Ara Project.
National Parks: Maquenque National Park, Tortuguero National Park
The Scarlet Macaw
Size: 85cm (2 ft 9 in) long and 900g (2 lbs) in weight
The Scarlet Macaw is more commonly found in lowland humid forest, deciduous forest and tropical evergreen forest areas on the Pacific coast. They are often seen in pairs, groups of 3-4 and occasional larger flocks of up to 30. With a more varied diet than the Great Green Macaw they can feed from various palms as well as fruits, nuts, seeds, flowers and small invertebrates. Scarlet Macaws are also known to eat clay for the reason that it allows them to digest unripe and poisonous fruits that could otherwise be fatal.
National Parks: Corcovado National Park, Carara National Park, Palo Verde National Park.
1 – Forbes; 2 – Chassot et al