Macaws in Costa Rica are more than just stunning birds; they grace our skies as our air force.
These brightly colored birds are some of the largest members of the parrot family.
Unfortunately, they are among the most threatened birds not only in Costa Rica but also across Central America
Overview of Macaws in Costa Rica
In Costa Rica, two distinct macaw species are present out of the 17 found across Central and South America:
- Scarlet Macaw
- Great Green Macaw
While they belong to the same family, spotting them together in the wild is an uncommon sight.
The Scarlet Macaw primarily inhabits the Pacific coast, whereas the Great Green Macaw can be seen in the Caribbean coast.
Typically, they reside in pairs or small family units. However, on rare occasions, they congregate in large gatherings.
Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao)
Scarlet Macaws have bright red bodies with blue and yellow on their wings. The two primary populations can be found in Carara and the Osa Peninsula, with a few pairs located in Guanacaste and the North Caribbean lowlands.
They inhabit the forest canopy and perch in trees in semi-open areas.These birds have a preference for large fruits and seeds.
They are sometimes seen at beaches, enjoying the fruits of the tropical almond.
They often commute long distances daily between their roosting and feeding sites. While they remain quiet when perched and eating, they can be quite noisy during flight.
Great Green Macaw (Ara ambiguus)
The Great Green Macaw is very large with a green body, wings that are bluish on top and yellowish underneath, and a flash of red in its tail.
They are becoming increasingly rare, primarily found in the Caribbean lowlands and foothills, both in forested and semi-open areas.
These birds travel vast distances in search of fruits from tall trees, especially the wild almond.Unfortunately, they are endangered, largely due to habitat loss.
Hunting and live capture for the illegal pet trade also contribute to their decline.
Where to Find Macaws in Costa Rica
Definitely, spotting the Scarlet Macaw is easier than finding the Great Green Macaw. Based on our experience, we recommend the following places:
- Carara National Park or its surroundings: We’ve personally witnessed a large group of Scarlet Macaw on the trail named “La Meandrica” within the park. During the mating season, we’ve observed some macaws nesting in tall trees. Moreover, if you’re around the Jaco viewpoint, you might spot macaws feeding on almonds.
- Corcovado National Park & Drake Bay: This is one of our favorite spots in the entire country due to the abundance of wildlife. As wildlife enthusiasts, we’ve visited this area multiple times, and spotting the Scarlet Macaws here is quite easy. It’s common to observe them around the small town of Drake Bay. If you venture into the Corcovado National Park, you’re almost guaranteed to see them, along with many other bird species and animals.
- South Caribbean Side: Seeing the Green Macaw has been less common, but we’ve definitely sighted them when visiting Tortuguero, Puerto Viejo, or Manzanillo. However, it’s been a bit more challenging to see them perched in trees.
- Ara Manzanillo: If you’re visiting Puerto Viejo and Manzanillo, don’t miss this stop. Firstly, you’ll be supporting a local NGO dedicated to protecting the Green Macaw. Secondly, you’ll have an opportunity to see the Green Macaws up close, offering a fantastic photo opportunity. The entrance fee is $20 for adults, while children under 12 are admitted free. Tours run from 3:00 pm to 4:00 pm, so be sure to reserve a spot by calling +506 8971-1436.
- Macaw Recovery Network: This project champions the protection of macaws. While we haven’t personally visited, they do offer tours for visitors. If you wish to support them, you can also become a donor. For more details, visit their website at macawrecoverynetwork.org.
Tip: Check out the almond trees: If you’re on the Pacific side beaches, especially in Jaco, Esterillos, Uvita, or Manuel Antonio, you can boost your odds of seeing macaws by starting with the almond trees. After identifying this crucial food source, keep an eye on the adjacent beaches where macaws come to eat. Remember, timing is essential – these colorful birds fly from their nests to the almond trees in the early mornings and head back to their nests in the evenings.
Macaws are stunning birds that, as a wildlife lover and enthusiastic wildlife photographer, you definitely don’t want to miss.
Capturing them in flight or while they’re eating is truly a beautiful moment.
However, beyond just photographing them, we’ve learned from projects like Ara Manzanillo about the significance of protecting these endangered species.
Equally important is educating the newer generations so they can appreciate, care for, and love these birds that have sadly been affected by the illegal pet trade.
For this reason, we encourage you to visit initiatives such as Ara Manzanillo and the Macaw Recovery Network.