Scarlet Macaws- Rainbows of the Rainforest


Scarlet Macaws- Rainbows of the Rainforest

by Lindsay Bradshaw, Animal Care Manager

The scarlet macaw is one of the most impressive birds you will ever encounter.  With their vibrant feathers full of a rainbow of colors, they look more like a flying bag of Skittles.  Macaws are rainforest dwellers and many animals living in the jungle are green to camouflage with all the trees and plants.  The scarlet macaw, however, seems to be doing the opposite of camouflaging.  You might be wondering why they sport all those flashy colorful feathers rather than trying to blend into their background.  The fact is, they’re using all those colors as a strategy to stay safe. They are trying to trick their predators!  Scarlet macaws have a type of coloration known as “disruptive coloration”.  Disruptive coloration is most often found on animals that live in groups.  Macaws are flock birds (meaning they live together in large groups) so if a predator, like a large raptor, was ever to try to prey on a scarlet macaw, the whole flock would fly away together and the colors on their feathers would disrupt the shape of the body of the birds, making it very hard for a predator to focus and catch one.  Many other animals use disruptive coloration as a survival strategy- for example the stripes on a zebra or the patterns on many schooling coral reef fish.  So those pretty feathers actually are actually a survival technique! 

The other thing you may notice about a scarlet macaw is the large beak.  Scarlet macaws love to eat fruit, berries, seeds, and nuts.  With that large beak, they can crack through the shells of even the toughest nuts.  And from that very large beak comes a very loud noise.  The Central and South American jungle where they live is a vast habitat and communicating over long distances is essential for scarlet macaws.  Their call is mighty and can be ear piercing for those who hear it up close!

Come visit our beautiful scarlet macaw “Tico” who is here with us as one of our Passport to the Pacific animal ambassadors.  He might even say hello to you so bring your earplugs!  A hello from a parrot like Tico might turn out to be the loudest hello you have ever heard!   


Lindsay Bradshaw is the Animal Care Manager at the Living Coast Discovery Center. She has worked for several animal-focused organizations, including Birch Aquarium at Scripps, Nature and Raptor Center of Pueblo, Maui Ocean Center, and the Vancouver Aquarium.

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