Carmen and Maria are sisters that were bred on Salt Spring Island and donated to the Conservatory nearly 25 years ago. They are Green Winged Macaws and are the 2nd largest parrots in the world! The stunning Hyacinth Macaws are the largest. The native habitat of Green Winged Macaws are the rainforests of Panama, southward down to Brazil and Argentina in South America.
Macaws almost always form bonded pairs and can live between 50-60 years. All parrots are zygodactyl, meaning they have 4 toes on each foot – with the first and fourth toes pointing backward while the second and third point forward. This allows these birds to grasp and manipulate all kinds of food and materials. They can even peel off tiny pieces of wood to use like tooth picks!
People frequently confuse the Green winged macaws with Scarlet Macaws. The main differences are the green bars or patches on wings of Green Winged Macaws (hence the name) and the red lines around their eyes, which are actually made up of tiny feathers. Scarlet Macaws have a yellow bar on each wing and no facial feathers.
Other than their bright colouring, the large “decurved” bill is the macaw’s most recognizable feature. Their bills are incredibly strong, being able to exert 350 lbs. of pressure per square inch! They can easily snap a broom handle in half! This strength allows macaws to crack open extremely hard nuts and seeds, as well as to climb, hang and scramble through the tree forest canopies looking for food.
Because macaws often eat fruits and seeds that are not quite ripe (seed predators), it is believed they somehow detoxify the chemicals many plants have developed as a defense. Green winged macaws are known to eat bitter alkaloid and caustic seeds in the wild. It’s well known in Amazonia that Green Winged Macaws eat clay from cliffs along the Amazon River called “colpas”. Ecologists believe this clay may absorb alkaloids and buffer the digestive tract helping to counteract the poisons from the unripe nuts, as well as being an important source of minerals such as sodium.
Green winged macaws are considered the most intelligent of all macaws with an ability to learn quickly. Because all parrots are quite social and engaging, they have been highly prized as pets throughout the centuries. This popularity, as well has rainforest destruction, has caused most wild macaw species to be placed on the endangered list. Five species of macaws are already extinct! There is good news however. Environment Canada and The Wild Bird Conservation Act in the United States forbids the commercial import of any bird listed by CITES which includes most parrots and macaws – endangered or threatened.
We can all help protect the rainforests of the World and these beautiful birds in the wild, by being aware of what we buy and where it comes from! Just like opting to purchase shade grown coffee, you can also shop for rainforest-friendly and fair trade products that range from chocolate to jewelry to cosmetics. Buying Fair Trade Certified products helps support local communities and ensures that products are grown in rainforest friendly ways, preserving crucial habitat, which in turn helps the survival of these beautiful macaws. Watch for these logos on products to make informed choices about what you buy.