Macaw, the common name of the large and gorgeous South American parrots of the subfamily araince, characterized by a large stout bill, compressed on the sides, with the culmen" much arched to the prolonged and acute tip; the lower mandible is deeper than long, and broader at the base than the upper; the wings are long and pointed, with the second and third quills the longest; the tail lengthened, graduated, and each feather narrowed at the tip; tarsi short and robust, and covered with small scales; toes unequal, the anterior outer rather larger than the posterior outer. This subfamily embraces the genera ara (Brisson), conurus (Kuhl), and enicognathus (Gray), as given in the "Genera of Birds" by the last named author; but as the name macaw is generally given only to the first genus, this article will be restricted to the species of ara, with which the genus macrocercus (Vieill.) is synonymous. The macaws are remarkable for their size and the beauty of their plumage; they are confined to the tropical regions of America, where they inhabit the borders of forests, keeping almost entirely in the trees and rarely coming to the ground; they climb about in search of nuts and hard fruits and seeds, which they can readily break with their powerful bills; their food is entirely vegetable, and the tongue is thick and soft; the flight is horizontal, and not elevated.
Generally observed in pairs, they sometimes occur in small flocks, which utter the most piercing and disagreeable screams whenever disturbed; they are less docile than the true parrots, and can rarely be taught to articulate more than a few words in a discordant tone; they breed in hollow trees, laying generally two eggs, both sexes assisting in incubation; the cheeks are bare of feathers, having only a few minute plumes; the word ara is derived from the Indian name of the bird, and is an imitation of their ordinary cry. One of the handsomest species is the scarlet macaw (A. macao, Linn.), measuring 39 inches from the bill to the end of the tail; the principal color is bright red, with blue rump, vent, tail coverts, and quills, and greenish blue and yellow wing coverts; the tail, which is about two thirds of the whole length, is variegated with blue and crimson; the upper mandible is whitish, the lower one dusky, and the skin of the cheeks white and wrinkled. This magnificent bird is not uncommon in South America, and is occasionally seen in menageries.
The red and blue macaw (A. aracanga, Gmel.) greatly resembles the last named species, but the middle of the wing coverts is bright yellow; it attains a length of 39 in., the tail measuring 24 in.; the prevailing color is vermilion red, the wings variegated with azure blue; the lower back, rump, and tail coverts are pale azure and ultramarine blue; the four longest central tail feathers vermilion red, the next on each side red and blue, and the rest wholly blue; the under surface of the tail deep red; iris yellow. It is widely distributed in intertropical South America, and even extends to Mexico; like other macaws, it breeds twice a year; from its size and beauty it forms a striking feature in collections, but its harsh notes render it a disagreeable companion in a private house.
Blue and Yellow Macaw (Ara ararauna).
The blue and yellow macaw (A. ararauna, Linn.) is rather smaller and is less common than the two preceding; it is about 2 1/2 ft. long, of a fine blue color above, with more or less tinge of green; the lower surface from the breast downward is a light orange yellow; the cheeks are white and the bill black. It frequents woods in marshy districts, where grow the species of palm upon whose fruit it principally feeds; when taken early, it is easily tamed, and may be taught to imitate certain sounds, though not to articulate distinctly; it is easily reconciled to captivity, and has been known to breed in confinement. The green macaw (A. militaris, Linn.) is of a general lively green color, with blackish brown bill, crimson forehead, reddish brown chin, blue lower back, upper tail coverts, wing coverts, and quills; the upper surface of the tail is scarlet with blue tip, the under surface and that of the wings orange yellow; the claws are strong, hooked, and black. It inhabits the warmer parts of the Andean chain, attaining an elevation of 3,000 ft., and is found also in Mexico; it attacks fields of corn and other grain in large flocks, often committing serious depredations; it also feeds upon fruits and fleshy seed vessels; it is docile and easily tamed.
These birds were great favorites with the Inca Peruvians, who kept them as pets and ornamented their head dresses with their feathers.