Macaws were once nearly extinct in Costa Rica – we were told there were more pet Macaws in New York City than in the wild in Central America. Isolated populations of Scarlet Macaws in Corcovado and Carara National Parks have expanded into healthy flocks the entire length of the Pacific Coast. The great green macaw (Ara ambiguus) is still critically endangered and the northern lowlands are one of the last places to see them.
Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao cyanoptera)
Laws were passed in Costa Rica prohibiting caging macaws and other rain forest birds as pets and a remarkable recovery has been driven by breeding and reintroduction projects by organizations like Zoo Ave and The Ara Project.
Scarlet Macaws feed on seeds, fruits, leaves, flowers and bark of dozens of tree and plant species that grow in Costa Rica’s coastal forests. Large flocks roost in the mangrove forests and they fly inland to feed soon after sunrise.
Oddly they’re very fond of Indian food – specifically the seeds of the Indian beach almond (Terminalia catappa, Combretaceae). The almond is an exotic species (not native) but well established along the Pacific and quite common along a 50 km stretch of beach centered on Jacó from Tarcoles in the north to Parrita near Manuel Antonio on the south. It is one of the best places in Costa Rica to spot scarlet macaws.
We felt incredibly lucky to spot the rare sight of a pair of Ara macao cyanoptera tending to their nest in the wild in the mountains above Tarcoles.
Great Green Macaw (Ara ambiguus)
Green Macaws are larger than their red cousins but still easily recognizable by their unmistakable silhouette hooked beak and tail longer than their body.
They rely on a single species of tree the mountain almendro (Dypterix panamensis) for much of their food and nearly all nesting sites. Unfortunately the wood of the mountain almond is commercially valuable and as the trees are logged to extinction the macaws are following. In Costa Rica all but a tiny fraction of suitable habitat has been destroyed to plant pineapples and bananas.
Costa Rica is still probably the best place in the world to see the green macaw and there are efforts under way to plant almond trees and perhaps establish a new protected area called Maquenque National Park in the north central lowlands of Costa Rica between the Río Sarapiquí and border with Nicaragua at the Río San Juan.
We’ve seen thousands of scarlet macaws but have only been fortunate enough to see green macaws a handful of times.