What Is a Red-Fronted Macaw?

Angela Wheeland

The red-fronted macaw is an endangered parrot generally found in a small, desert-like, mountainous area of Bolivia, in the valley of the Rio Grande, Pilcomayo, and Mizque rivers. The bird's habitat was originally located in large area of eastern Bolivia, but changes in human, particularly agricultural, activity have forced these macaws to nest in sandstone cliffs in the mountains. Although the number of wild red-fronted macaws declines each year, several non-profit organizations, such as the Parrot Preservation Society, dedicate their time to preserve and help the red-fronted macaw procreate.

The red-fronted macaw can weigh up to one pound and reach 23.5 inches in length.
The red-fronted macaw can weigh up to one pound and reach 23.5 inches in length.

An adult red-fronted macaw can weigh up to one pound (456 g), and is generally 21.5 to 23.5 inches (55 to 60 cm) long. The parrot is a medium-sized bird that is much smaller than the average blue or gold macaw, but significantly larger than a parakeet. A red-fronted macaw is mostly green in color, with a red forehead, red patch over the ears, and an orange-red color under the wing coverts. Its primary wing feathers are generally light-to-dark blue and the bird has pinkish-colored skin that appears around the eyes, extending down to the dark gray or black beak.

In 1992, aviculturists estimated that Bolivia's population of red-fronted macaws was approximately 3,000 birds, with the numbers declining significantly each year. Today, conservative estimates indicate that there might be fewer than 500 pairs in the wild, although researchers have not discovered all of its nesting colonies. The parrot's population is suspected to continue to decline in future years, due to illegal trade, persecution as a crop pest, and habitat loss.

The original habitat of the red-fronted macaw is the Andean dry forest, but due to unsustainable human activities, charcoal production, and overgrazing by goats, the bird now inhabits the subtropical area of Bolivia. The red-fronted macaw generally nests on steep-sided cliffs and feeds on seeds and fruit. When food is scarce, the bird will eat crops, particularly unripe corn and groundnuts. The red-fronted macaw lays eggs from November to April, producing between one and three offspring each year.

Even though Bolivian law prohibits unauthorized trade of wild animals, experts estimate that 65,000 to 78,000 parrots are caught and traded each year, including the critically endangered blue-throated and the red-fronted macaws. Nearly 75% of those captured parrots die in transit — typically due to disease, stress, asphyxiation, crushing, or dehydration — and this is the main reason the birds are nearly extinct.

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