1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Macaw

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MACAW, or, as formerly spelt, Maccaw, the name given to some fifteen or more species of large, long-tailed birds of the parrot-family, natives of the neotropical region, and forming a very well-known and easily recognized genus Ara, and to the four species of Brazilian Hyacinthine macaws of the genera Anodorhynchus and Cyanopsittacus. Most of the macaws are remarkable for their gaudy plumage, which exhibits the brightest scarlet, yellow, blue and green in varying proportion and often in violent contrast, while a white visage often adds a very peculiar and expressive character.[1] With one exception the known species of Ara inhabit the mainland of America from Paraguay to Mexico, being especially abundant in Bolivia, where no fewer than seven of them (or nearly one half) have been found (Proc. Zool. Soc., 1879, p. 634). The single extra-continental species, A. tricolor, is one of the most brilliantly coloured, and is peculiar to Cuba, where, according to Gundlach (Ornitologia Cubana, p. 126), its numbers are rapidly decreasing so that there is every chance of its becoming extinct.[2]

Of the best known species of the group, the blue-and-yellow macaw, A. ararauna, has an extensive range in South America from Guiana in the east to Colombia in the west, and southwards to Paraguay. Of large size, it is to be seen in almost every zoological garden, and it is very frequently kept alive in private houses, for its temper is pretty good, and it will become strongly attached to those who tend it. Its richly coloured plumage, sufficiently indicated by its common English name, supplies feathers eagerly sought by salmon-fishers for the making of artificial flies. The red-and-blue macaw, A. macao, is even larger and more gorgeously clothed, for, besides the colours expressed in its ordinary appellation, yellow and green enter into its adornment. It inhabits Central as well as South America as far as Bolivia, and is also a common bird in captivity, though perhaps less often seen than the foregoing. The red-and-yellow species, A. chloroptera, ranging from Panama to Brazil, is smaller, or at least has a shorter tail, and is not quite so usually met with in menageries. The red-and-green, A. militaris, smaller again than the last, is not unfrequent in confinement, and presents the colours of the name it bears. This has the most northerly extension of habitat, occurring in Mexico and thence southwards to Bolivia. In A. manilata and A. nobilis the prevailing colour is green and blue. The Hyacinthine macaws A. hyacinthinus, A. leari, A. glaucus and Cyanopsittacus spixi are almost entirely blue.

The macaws live well in captivity, either chained to a perch or kept in large aviaries in which their strong flight is noticeable. The note of these birds is harsh and screaming. The sexes are alike; the lustreless white eggs are laid in hollow trees, usually two at a time. The birds are gregarious but apparently monogamous.  (A. N.) 

  1. This serves to separate the macaws from the long-tailed parakeets of the New World (Conurus), to which they are very nearly allied.
  2. There is some reason to think that Jamaica may have formerly possessed a macaw (though no example is known to exist), and if so it was most likely a peculiar species. Sloane (Voyage, ii. 297), after describing what he calls the “great maccaw” (A. ararauna), which he had seen in captivity in that island, mentions the “small maccaw” as being very common in the woods there, and P. H. Gosse (Birds of Jamaica, p. 260) gives, on the authority of Robinson, a local naturalist of the last century, the description of a bird which cannot be reconciled with any species now known, though it must have evidently been allied to the Cuban A. tricolor.