There are 16 different species of macaws, several of which are endangered, and some, such as the Spix’s macaw and the Glaucous macaw, have already been declared extinct in the wild. With their survival far from guaranteed, we look at the factors that may influence the life expectancy of these colorful rainforest birds, as we ask how long do macaws live?
A macaw’s life expectancy in the wild varies according to species, with larger species such as Hyacinth macaws living up to 50 years in the wild, and smaller macaws, such as Hahn’s macaw reaching a maximum age of 30. In captivity, macaws can live significantly longer lives.
Captive conditions can provide a safe, predator-free environment for macaws, in which their life expectancy is significantly extended. With access to veterinarian care, dietary supplements, and adequate shelter, nutrition, and drinking water, captive macaws can outlive their free-ranging counterparts by 30 years or more in some instances.
Read on to find out more about how long different macaw species may be expected to live, and how a natural environment or captive conditions may impact the length of their life.
Generally speaking, Macaws are all pretty long living birds
Blue macaws are also more commonly known as Hyacinth macaws and are the largest macaw species. Classified as vulnerable in 2016, these striking blue birds have an average lifespan of up to 50 years in the wild.
In captivity, this can extend to 60 years or more, if the right diet, care, and living conditions are provided.
Hyacinth Macaw in flight, South Pantanal, Brazil
Spix’s macaws were declared extinct in the wild in 2019. What is thought to be the last wild male bird is recorded to have reached 20 years of age, but no other records exist on the species’ longevity in their natural habitat.
While there are no remaining Spix’s macaws in the wild, in 2015 there were around 110 in captivity. The oldest captive Spix’s macaw on record died aged 34 years.
There are no remaining Spix's Macaws in the wild
Scarlet macaws, also known as red and yellow macaws, have a typical lifespan in the wild of between 40 and 50 years. In captivity, this can extend to 75 years or more.
Scarlet Macaws generally live for between 40 and 50 years in the wild
In the wild, the average expected lifespan of every macaw species has been reduced by human activity such as deforestation. The maximum life expectancy is up to 50 years for larger species such as Hyacinth macaws to 10 years for the much-smaller Blue-headed macaw. Average maximum life spans of the different macaw species are as follows:
Red-fronted Macaws are a critically endangered bird species
The lifespan of a macaw can be significantly extended when they are raised or kept in captivity. The only exception to this seems to be the Red-fronted macaw, which seems to fare much better in its natural habitat. Typical maximum life expectancies of captive macaw species are as follows:
Close up of a perched Red-and-green Macaw, also known as the Green-winged Macaw
Wild and captive macaws are susceptible to diseases including respiratory infections, psittacosis (parrot fever), and avian bornavirus. Poisoning through agricultural pesticides and heavy metal toxicosis has also been recorded.
Predation by hawks, eagles, and other raptors is a common cause of death for rainforest-dwelling macaws. Habitat loss is a significant factor in the decline of population numbers in the wild.
Macaws lay two to three eggs in a clutch, and incubate their eggs for an average of 24 to 28 days depending on species. Chicks are born blind and featherless, and known as neonates until they open their eyes around 14 days after hatching, after which they are called nestlings.
A macaw’s eyesight develops by day 28, while hearing may take until day 35 to become fully functional. Nestlings rely on their parents for food and only begin to feed themselves at between 2 and 3 months, after which point they are known as weanlings.
Fledging takes place at around 3 months, with juvenile macaws becoming independent and leaving the nest permanently after one year.
The age a young macaw reaches sexual maturity varies from species to species, from between 2 and 3 years for Blue-winged macaws to 7 to 10 years for Hyacinth macaws. On reaching breeding age, they will seek a mate and pair up for life.
Adult Scarlet Macaw feeding their chick
Macaws are hunted and preyed on by several bird species in their native environment, including hawks, falcons, and toucans. Eagles have been observed to target macaws and their nests during breeding season. Rainforest mammals such as jaguars and monkeys will also feed on smaller macaws and their eggs.
The oldest recorded macaw, a Green-winged macaw and Hollywood veteran named Poncho, turned 92 in 2018.
Another possible contender for the world’s oldest macaw is Charlie, a female Blue-and-yellow macaw reportedly born in 1899 and still said to have been going strong in 2013 at the ripe old age of 114. However, claims that the bird was once the pet of former British prime minister, Winston Churchill, are unverified.
Close up of a Blue-and-yellow Macaw
Macaws that are in good health can generally last between 2 and 3 days without food before their condition begins to rapidly decline.
Lack of access to water is even more of a serious issue, with macaws needing to drink at least once every 24 hours before they become dangerously dehydrated. For elderly, young, or sick macaws these time frames would be even shorter.
Tropical regions provide the natural habitat for macaw species, so extreme winter weather is not an issue that they have to contend with in the wild. For captive birds, extra care needs to be taken to provide stable temperatures in colder months.
A pair of Hyacinth Macaws in the wild, Brazil
Nine macaw species are classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, with Scarlet macaws having an estimated population of 20,000-50,000 individual birds. Red-fronted and Blue-throated macaws are seriously at-risk.
Populations are at risk due to the illegal trapping for the exotic pet trade, poaching, and habitat loss due to deforestation.
Macaws have been recorded as living for 80 years and beyond in captivity. The oldest verified macaw on record reached the impressive age of 92 in 2018.
Brighten up your inbox with our exclusive newsletter, enjoyed by thousands of people from around the world.