The very colorful scarlet macaw is a large parrot. The plumage is predominantly scarlet, with light blue feathers on tail covert feathers and rump. The longer upper wing coverts are colored yellow, the upper sides of flight feathers on the wings are a dark blue, and so are the ends of their tail feathers. The undersides of the tail flight feathers and wings are dark red with iridescence of metallic gold. These macaws have bare white skin surrounding their eyes and as far as the beak. Their upper beak is mostly pale, while the lower is black. Male and females look the same, and the only difference between young birds and adults is that the former have dark eyes while the latter have light yellow eyes.
This macaw is native to the humid evergreen forests of the American tropics in Central and South America, including Mexico in the east, Guatemala, Belize, Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil and Amazonian Peru. It inhabits lowlands up to a height of 500 meters (formerly as far as 1000 meters). Their usual habitats are the canopy and emergent layers of the rainforest.
They are a diurnal species and flock as night approaches. In the morning they will often fly a long distance to find food, flying in small groups or pairs, often calling to each other in hoarse raucous voices. They make nests in tree hollows. If in their nest and danger presents itself, they will cautiously examine the scene until the danger has gone. If their nest is directly threatened, the birds quietly escape to a place of safety. Macaws often use their left foot when handling food and grasping other objects. They communicate by means of a range of postures and vocalizations.
These birds are monogamous and they bond for life. Once they have formed a pair, they are hardly ever seen alone, except to feed while the other bird incubates the eggs. Mates show affection by mutual preening and licking each other's faces. About every one or two years breeding occurs. 2 to 4 rounded, white eggs are laid, and are incubated for around 24 to 25 days. It is mainly the females which incubate the eggs. The young stay with the adults for up to one to two years. Males and females both care for the chicks. The parents do not raise another clutch until the first chicks have become independent. Macaws are sexually mature by 3 or 4 years old.
The species is declining due to habitat loss, being hunted for feathers and food, and capture for sale as pets. Their habitat is threatened by forest destruction. Poachers will cut down a tree with a macaw nest to get to the young, which limits the number of nesting places and thus the numbers of chicks raised. Nine out of the sixteen macaw species, including scarlet macaws are listed in Appendix I of CITES and classified as LC, i.e. least concern on IUCN’s Red List.
According to the IUCN Red List the total Scarlet macaw population size is around 20,000-50,000 individuals. Currently this species is classifed as Least Concern (LC); however its numbers today are decreasing.
Scarlet macaws are important as seed eaters of large tree fruits. They may have an impact on the generation of species of forest tree.
The Scarlet macaw has been bred in captivity for a long time, first at Paquime in Northern Mexico in the 11th century. The Scarlet macaw today is in captivity worldwide, mostly in the Americas. People pose a threat to this species but they can also help their population in that captive techniques developed in the pet trade can have a positive effect on wild populations, as where there are low macaw populations, "extra" chicks that would normally die in the nest can be reared by humans and released back into the wild.