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The Military Macaw (Ara militaris)
in Puerto Vallarta

By Griffin Page
Naturalist ~ Eco-guide


Two species of Macaws can be encountered in Mexico. The Military Macaw (Ara militaris), which used to be found in three regions (the Pacific slope, the Huasteca and mid-south of the country) and the Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao) in the south of the country. Mostly because of the fragmentation of their population, habitat and their exploitation that has been ongoing since pre-Hispanic times, their range and numbers have drastically decreased and are still declining. The species is considered by IUCN (Hilton-Taylor, 2000) as Vulnerable and is found in CITES, Appendix I (CITES, 2003), which prohibits their commercialization and is defined as endangered by the Mexican government, (SEMARNAT, 2002).


The current distribution of the Military Macaw worldwide is as follows: Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela. The total population is estimated at a little over 10,000 individuals (BirdLife International, 2003) but has not been studied extensively. However, a census has been made in Jalisco and some studies were done in the States of Sinaloa and Querétaro and they have been found to be a rare species in its distribution range. So we are blessed to have them in the south part of our Bay. Let’s take care of them.


This species requires big extensions of forests for feeding and nesting. Since they eat only a few species of flowers, fruits, sheaths, seeds, new buds of leaves and sometimes insects, this leads us to believe that they are particular about their diets which will include Bromeliads, Orchids, Mimosas, Leguminous plants and certain Palms just to name a few. They prefer to nest in secondary holes of tree trunks where they can enlarge those left by other birds such as woodpeckers or use naturally made holes like the rotten base of a branch. They may also use holes in clay walls or build their own in rotten tree trunks and their nest can be up to 40 meters in altitude but in nature, the availability of adequate nesting cavities is very limited. At right: "Tequila" with the author


No more than 19% to 30% of a Macaw population reproducing can raise 1 to 1.5 young birds in the wild per season. Depredation and habitat loss caused by humans and other natural factors like storms, illnesses, parasites, natural predators and competition for nesting cavities are all threats to the survival of this species. It has disappeared from many regions of Mexico where it once deployed its extensive colorful wings. Two major populations remain: Tamaulipas and Jalisco. The area of Cajón de Peñas (one hour south of Vallarta) was determined, through research, to be an adequate area for their protection should a wildlife refuge be established.


Conservation efforts in the case of Military Macaws should include:
Communication and Education - Awareness
Research actions - Population numbers and range
Research actions - Biology and Ecology
Research actions - Trends/Monitoring
Habitat and site-based actions - Protected areas - Management
Species-based actions - Sustainable use - Harvest management


At left: "Tequila" * Tequila is a rescued military Macaw, which is happily living free on the premises of a restaurant. It survived but will unfortunately never reproduce.

I don’t know of anyone who wouldn’t be sad to see these extraordinary colorful birds vanish. There is still time to stop this decline. Get involved and help save this species from extinction.

“Nature could be such a wonderful teacher if only we saw it for what it really is” ~ Monachí






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