Macaws of Costa Rica: Scarlet Macaw & Great Green Macaw
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. Macaws can lay 1 to 4 eggs per clutch, and they may have several clutches per year. The number of chicks that a macaw can have in its lifetime can vary depending on species, age, health, and environmental conditions. Some chicks may not survive to adulthood due to predation, disease, and competition for resources.
- Macaws typically mate for life.
- Scarlet Macaws can live up to 50 years in the wild. That’s right — half a century.
- Macaws have been recorded as living for 80 years and beyond in captivity.
- The average weight of an adult macaw is approximately 2.2 to 2.9 pounds.
- Scarlet Macaws and great green macaws have the scientific names “Ara Macao” and “Ara Ambiguus”.
- They can be noisy… very noisy!
- Once hatched, the chicks are dependent on their parents for around a year.
- Macaws are expert flyers and generally remain out of reach of many predators.
- If you hear a squeak coming from above, look up to the almond trees - it may be a macaw.
Is Costa Rica Protecting Macaws?
Formerly present in over 85% of the country, 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 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 been 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. Check out some of the organizations that currently protect macaws:
In 2018, this Network was founded after nearly a decade of working in parrot conservation in Costa Rica. The organization has been the forerunner of releasing new populations of macaws into the wild. Their mission is to recover endangered parrot populations by developing and implementing best practices in conservation.
If you're interested in visiting them, you’ll gain firsthand experience of this restoration work. They now operate in several parts of the country where they continue their efforts.
Some examples of those efforts include nearly 50 Great Green Macaws released on the southern Caribbean coast and over 160 Scarlet Macaws released in Tiskita, Palo Verde, Curu and Punta Islita in the previous years.
They really are giving hope to macaws!
The foundations for Ara Manzanillo began over 35 years ago through the efforts of Margot and Richard Frisius. Today, the aim of Ara Manzanillo remains the same as the original founders’ goals — to ensure the long-term future of wild parrots in Costa Rica through restoring macaws to their historic range, contributing to the scientific community, encouraging the protection of tropical forests, and educating the public.
You can also visit their station in Puerto Viejo and take a guided tour to learn more about macaws!
Macaws of Costa Rica
The Great Green Macaw
This macaw is found exclusively on the Caribbean slopes preferring lowland humid forest and deciduous forest areas reaching up to an elevation of 600m.
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 is found in Sarapiqui and there is a small population of released Macaws in Manzanillo aided by the Ara Project.
- Size: 3 ft. long
- Weight: approx. 3 lbs
- National Parks: Maquenque Wildlife Refuge, Tortuguero National Park
The Scarlet Macaw
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.
- Size: 2 ft. 9 in. long
- Weight: 2 lbs
- National Parks: Corcovado National Park, Carara National Park, Palo Verde National Park.
Popular Destinations to See Macaws
If your trip to Costa Rica includes a stop at any of these places, you're at a good spot to see macaws!