The Scarlet Macaw of Costa Rica
Perhaps the most iconic of all of Costa Rica’s wildlife, the Scarlet Macaw’s gloriously colored feathers, child-like intelligence and cheerful appearance make it a perennial favorite of visitors. Fortunately, these birds are not shy; while you aren’t guaranteed to see one on your trip, they are easier to spot than other rainforest creatures. If you are lucky, you may even see them in groups, hanging out together in almond trees.
Members of the parrot family, scarlet macaws are native to parts of Central and South America, and live high in the rainforest tree canopies. They are known for their scarlet heads and rainbow-colored back and wing plumage, as well as their distinctive raucous call – you will probably hear a scarlet macaw long before you see one.
Scarlet macaws spend their days gliding through the canopy and foraging for nuts, seeds, and fruits. Their favorite food is the Terminalia catappa, an almond-like nut that grows prolifically in Costa Rica.
Scarlet macaws grow up to 3 feet in length and weigh about 2 pounds, making them relatively large birds. They form strong pair bonds and mate for life. They make nests in holes in trees, and breed during the dry season, laying one to two eggs a year, and taking great care of their young. If you come during the dry season (December through April), you may catch a glimpse of a macaw peeking out of its nest high in a tree.
Unfortunately, due to habitat loss, scarlet macaws are not as plentiful in Costa Rica as they once were – they are actually considered to be endangered in their habitat. Today, they can mainly be seen in Costa Rica’s northern Pacific area. While they are strong fliers, scarlet macaws tend not to migrate far out of their comfort zone, and are seldom seen on the country’s Caribbean side, which is home to the green macaw.
Scarlet macaws prefer to inhabit Costa Rica’s undisturbed lowland forests. The best places to see these colorful birds include Corcovado National Park; Carara National Park, which is just outside of the beach town of Jaco; the Osa Peninsula; Puerto Jimenez; and Palo Verde National Park. Carara National Park in particular has one of the country’s highest scarlet macaw populations. The best time of day to spot them is early morning.
Heading out to a national park will certainly raise your chances of seeing a scarlet macaw, but you may not have to venture out that far. Some visitors have had the privilege of being awakened in the early morning by a group flying overhead, or spotting a few in the trees from their hotel balcony or a restaurant patio. Keep your ears and eyes open, and your patience may just be rewarded!