Brief Guide to the 7 Macaws You Can Find in Colombia

Macaws are the largest birds of the Psittacidade family (their size ranges between 50 to 100 cm). They are noisy and have striking and suggestive plumage.

They are New World birds and are believed to have played an important role in pre-Columbian cultures throughout the continent.

Many of these birds are found in the paintings of ancient civilizations such as the Aztecs in Mexico. It is believed that they were associated with time and fertility. They also symbolized the sun for the Maya and Aztec cultures.

The circadian and seasonal periodicity of parrots and macaws seems to have been considered as a reference parameter for the development of certain activities, mainly those related to agriculture.

They were highly prized birds for their bright and colorful plumage. They were traded by the indigenous people to be used in their rituals as ritual attire, crowns and fans, among other ritual stuff.

Brief Taxonomy of Macaws

Macaws are composed of 19 species (including extinct and critically endangered species) distributed in 6 genera:

  • Anodorhynchus
  • Cyanopsitta
  • Ara
  • Orthopsittaca
  • Primolius
  • Diopsittaca

Among these, only two genera are found in Colombia: the genus Orthopsittaca and the genus Ara.

Macaws are in Danger of Extinction

Most macaws are considered in danger of extinction. Several of them are vulnerable and endangered. Others are critically endangered, while five or more species are already extinct.

Sadly, the species that are now extinct are the Spix’s Macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii) (EW) and the Cuban Macaw (Ara tricolor) (EX).

If you need to better comprehend the threatening categories I recommend you read our entry Bird-watching Tourism Helps to Reduce Bird Extinction Risks in Colombia.

The main causes of their rapid disappearance have been the rapid increase in deforestation, hunting and illegal capture for the pet trade.

Threatened Macaw Species in Colombia

There are two species of macaws categorized as endangered: The Military Macaw and the Great Green Macaw.

9 Facts About Macaws

  1. After eating the macaws go to special places to consume clay and mud to eliminate the toxins consumed.
  2. The macaws feed silently to avoid the attention of other macaws of different species, thus protecting their food.
  3. Macaws are very selective when choosing the clay they will consume.
  4. Macaws are left-handed, they pick up objects such as food with their left paw, and hold on to walls and trees with their right.
  5. Macaws can have psychological diseases.
  6. Ceramic pieces have been found in which macaws are depicted.
  7. Some indigenous tribes related these birds to the sun.
  8. They are animals capable of learning different tricks.
  9. They can learn human attitudes by observing people.

Macaws of Colombia

There are no endemic species of macaws in Colombia. These birds are shared with Central America, the Amazonian and Orinoquia biogeographic regions.

Red-bellied Macaw

Orthopsittaca manilatus 


This bird is distributed up to 700 meters  (2296 ft) above sea level throughout the eastern plains region of Colombia and the Colombian Amazon.

In Colombia, you can observe the Red-bellied Macaw in Vichada, Guaviare, Guainía, Caquetá, Putumayo, Vaupés, Meta and Casanare.

Blue-and-Yellow Macaw

Ara ararauna


This bird is distributed up to 1500 meters (4921 ft) above sea level. In Colombia it is found in two regions separated by the Andes Mountains. Thus, it is present in the valleys of the upper Magdalena and Cauca rivers; and in the region of the eastern plains associated with the Guyanese shield and the Colombian Amazon.

In Colombia, you can observe the Blue-and-yellow Macaw in the north of Chocó, in Antioquia, Córdoba, Sucre, and Cartagena departments  to the north. And in the eastern region, in places such as Caquetá, Cundinamarca, and the natural bird reserve El Paujil in Santander.

Military Macaw

Ara militaris


This bird is distributed up to 2000 meters (6561 ft) above sea level, and in Colombia it is found in different small regions distributed fragmentarily throughout the national territory.

In Colombia, you can easily observe the Military Macaw in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the Serranía del Perijá and the Eco park Los Besotes, in Cesar.

Great Green Macaw

Ara ambiguus


This bird is distributed up to 1000 meters (3280 ft) above sea level, and in Colombia is found in the high Chocó and Darién. It is an endangered bird; it is believed that there are about 1700 individuals in the Colombian Darien.

It is found in regions of difficult access. In Colombia, you can observe the Great Green Macaw in the Urabá Antioqueño and Córdoba near the Paramillo National Park and the Campo Alegre nature reserve. There have also been records of this species in the Utría Ensenada.

Scarlet Macaw

Ara macao


This bird is distributed up to 1500 meters (4921 ft) above sea level. The plumage of this bird is very special, since it has the colors of the Colombian flag yellow, blue and red. Not in that order, but it has them.

It represents joy and Latin flavor. Unfortunately, it is one of the most hunted for illegal sale, precisely because of its cheerful and colorful plumage. Miraculously, it is not an endangered bird.

In Colombia, you can observe the Scarlet Macaw in almost all the Colombian territory, and especially in Risaralda, in Casanare, in Chiribiquete and surroundings, and in Vaupés.

Red-and-green Macaw

Ara chloropterus


This bird is distributed up to 800 meters (2624 ft) above sea level. The plumage of this bird is very similar to that of the Scarlet Macaw, but the difference in the plumage is that instead of yellow, it has green.

In Colombia, you will be able to observe the Red-and-green Macaw in almost all the Colombian territory, except for the Andes. Especially in the Northern Colombian Caribbean Birding Route, in Antioquia, and in the eastern plains and the Amazon. This bird is one of the few macaws seen in urban habitat in the city of Medellín.

A special place to go to see it is the Matavén Forest in Vichada. Find out more about this destination in our entry The Top Post-Covid-19 Destinations for Conservation Lovers in Colombia.

Chestnut-fronted Macaw

Ara severus


This bird is distributed up to 1100 meters  (3608 ft) above sea level. It is the most widely distributed macaw in the whole Colombian territory. It fights for the first place with the Red-and-green Macaw. But the Chestnut-fronted Macaw beats it!

It will be the most common Macaw in your birding trip around Colombia. In Colombia, you will be able to observe the Chestnut-fronted Macaw especially anywhere, haha, early in the morning or at sunset.

However, to photograph it you will have to visit places like the natural bird reserve El Paujil, in Santander, in the Matavén jungle in Vichada, or the city of San José del Guaviare.

If you want to know more about the most incredible natural destinations in Colombia, plan your trip with us!

  • NAVARIJO ORNELAS, María de Lourdes. Guacamaya: símbolo de temporalidad y fertilidad en dos ejemplos de pintura mural. Estud. cult. maya [online]. 2012, vol.39 [citado 2021-02-04], pp.173-193. Available here. ISSN 0185-2574.
  • Illustrated Guide of the Colombian Avifauna. By Fernando Ayerbe (More about guides in our entry Birders Library: The Colombian Birding Field Guides Books)
About the author

Sara Colmenares

Current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism – environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.