The Scarlet Macaw Ara macao is one of the most magnificent of the Macaw species. This large Macaw has a long history as a companion to humans, dating back to the early 1100’s with the Incas. They are described as magnificent, beautiful, and striking, as well as gaudy by some. Early authors like P. Slud, in his work “The Birds of Costa Rica: Distribution and Ecology” (1964), remarks that when feeding in the treetops, they adorn the foliage like gigantic, gaudy flowers. Wetmore, in “A Collection of Birds from Guatacaste, Costa Rico” (1944), described them as glowing with color in the morning sun.
A brilliantly adorned parrot, the Scarlet Macaw is truly a fantastic spectacle of color. It is a large Macaw and very similar in appearance to the Green-winged Macaw Ara chloroptera. Both of these parrots having a large amount of red in their feathering. The Scarlet Macaw is distinguished by the broad band of yellow feathers running across the middle of its wings, rather than the green band as seen on the Green Wing. Like the Green-winged, most of its body, head, and upper wings are a bright red, but it is noticeably a lighter shadeof red than that on the Green Wing. It is also slightly smaller than the Green-winged, and a bit more boisterous in personality.
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A variety of common names, descriptive of their coloring, have been used for both of these Macaw parrots. Names for the Ara macao included Red Macaw, Red and Gold Macaw, Red and Yellow Macaw, Red Yellow Blue Macaw, and Scarlet Macaw. The Ara chloroptera has been described by a range of names from Green-winged Macaw, Green Wing Macaw, Red and Green Macaw, Red and Blue Macaw, Crimson Macaw, and Maroon Macaw. It was in 1949, when a Dr. Osmond Hill, after careful researched of all available materials on these species, suggested that everything be simplified. He suggested that Ara macao simply be called the “Scarlet Macaw”, and Ara chloroptera simply be called the “Green-winged Macaw”. These are the two common names primarily used for each of these Macaw species today.
In the last couple of decades there have been new developments in the taxonomy of the Scarlet. Geographic variations of this species show slight discrepancies in size and color and suggests three possible subspecies. Common names for these variants include the Yellow-winged Macaw, Honduran Scarlet Macaw, and Bolivian Scarlet Macaw. These variants are described in more detail below.