Great green macaw (Ara ambiguus)

Great green macaw portrait
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Great green macaw fact file

Great green macaw description

GenusAra (1)

The great green macaw is a stunning parrot with vibrant plumage. The head, back and upper wing are olive green in colour whilst the rest of the wings and tip of the tail are blue (4). There is a scarlet red patch on the tail and on the forehead, whilst the rest of the face is bare with distinctive lines of black feathers (2). The Ecuadorian subspecies Ara ambiguus guayaquilensis can be distinguished by its green tail feathers (5) and narrower bill (4).

Also known as
Buffon’s macaw.
Ara ambigua.
Guacamayo Ambiguo.
Length: 85 – 90 cm (2)

Great green macaw biology

Family groups of 5 - 6 birds occupy small home ranges. In Ecuador breeding begins in August and the clutch of up to 3 eggs is laid in a nest in hollows of Cavanillesia plantanifolia trees (2). Elsewhere, nests are usually located in the hollows of mountain almond trees (7). Great green macaws feed on the large almond nuts produced by these trees and move through the forest in response to the presence of fruiting trees (2).


Great green macaw range

This species was previously widespread in Central and northern South America, but populations have today become severely reduced (5). Of the two subspecies, Ara ambiguus guayaquilensis is found only in a single area near to Guayaquil, Ecuador (6). Ara ambiguus ambiguus is known from a wider range running from Honduras to northwest Colombia (2).


Great green macaw habitat

Inhabits the forest edges of lowland tropical rainforest (2). Particularly associated with the mountain almond, or almendro (Dipteryx panamensis) tree which provides food and nest sites in much of this parrot’s range (7).


Great green macaw status

Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List 2006 (1), and listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).

IUCN Red List species status – Endangered


Great green macaw threats

The decline in abundance of the great green macaw can be largely attributed to a loss of habitat throughout the region. Lowland forests have been converted to banana plantations and cattle ranching, thus producing habitat that is no longer suitable for this parrot (2). In Costa Rica, the mountain almond is logged as a valuable tropical hardwood used for flooring and truck beds; this tree provides vital food and shelter for the great green macaw and its removal has had devastating consequences to the species (8). In addition, this highly attractive parrot is under demand from the illegal pet trade and may be captured as a result (2). In both Ecuador and Costa Rica numbers of the great green macaw are worryingly low (2).


Great green macaw conservation

The great green macaw is protected by law and international trade is prohibited by its listing on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) (3). The DariBiosphere Reserve, Panama and the Los KatNational Park in Colombia protect the species’ strongholds (2). The Great Green Macaw Research and Conservation Project has been working in Costa Rica since 1994 to raise awareness and carry out research into this stunning species (6). This parrot is an important flagship species as it is such a habitat specialist; its protection will help to conserve other rainforest species. The proposed creation of the Maquenque National Park would protect vital remaining habitat (6) of this species. A ban on logging of the mountain almond has also been proposed (2).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

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For more information on the great green macaw see:



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A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.


  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2006)
  2. BirdLife International (August, 2003)
  3. CITES (August, 2003)
  4. Erritzoe, J. (1993) The Birds of CITES and How to Identify Them. The Lutterworth Press, Cambridge.
  5. Macaw Compendium (August, 2003)
  6. Great Green Macaw Research and Conservation Project (August, 2003)
  7. Friends of the Great Green Macaw (August, 2003)
  8. World Parrot Trust (August, 2003)

Image credit

Great green macaw portrait  
Great green macaw portrait

© Michel & Christine Denis-Huot / Biosphoto

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