Colors burst from the forest canopy as a flock of birds take wing! This magnificent sight amazed the European explorers who arrived in Central and South America beginning in the late 15th century. What they saw were macaws, long-tailed parrots that can be found in the tropical regions of the Americas. Before long, pictures of these spectacular creatures appeared on maps of the region as a symbol of the newly found paradise.
Both male and female macaws are vividly colored, an oddity among brightly colored avians. Macaws are also intelligent, social birds with harsh squawks and piercing shrieks. In flocks of up to about 30 individuals, they leave their roosts early in the morning to forage for seeds, tropical fruits, and other foods. Typical of parrots, they often use their claws to grasp food, which they bite into with their big, curved bill. They can even crack open the tough shells of nuts! After feeding, they commonly flock to cliffs or riverbanks to nibble on clay, which may help to neutralize toxins in their food as well as to supply needed chemical elements.
Macaws normally mate for life, and they cooperate in caring for their young. The various species nest in tree hollows, in holes in riverbanks and termite mounds, or in the cavities and crevices of cliffs, where mates can be seen preening each other. Though fully grown at six months of age, the young stay with their parents for about three years. In the wild, macaws live between 30 and 40 years, but in captivity some have lived for more than 60. There are about 18 species, some of which are shown here.
Hyacinth macaw. Length: up to 39 inches (100 cm). The largest of all parrots, it can weigh over three pounds (1.3 kg)