Scarlet macaw, © María Elena Sánchez

Flying Free

Scarlet Macaw population increases with release of birds in Veracruz

The Mexican population of the most spectacularly colored macaw in North America is growing! This spring, we were thrilled to take part in the release of 28 scarlet macaws in Veracruz, Mexico. With just an estimated 250 birds in all of Mexico, these macaws are slowly regaining a foothold in the wild after being nearly wiped out. With the release of 27 macaws last year, and this release of another 28, the population has increased by around 20%.

To help bring back one of the most iconic species of our rainforests, Defenders is working in partnership with the Mexican National University’s Institute of Biology. The effort to reintroduce the scarlet macaw to the rainforests of the Biosphere Reserve of Los Tuxtlas has been years in the making, and in the last year we have seen our efforts literally take flight.

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scarlet macaws, © Juan Carlos Cantu

The flight aviary for the new release site (which I’m proud to say we helped fund) is in the Nanciyaga Reserve along the Catemaco Lake. When we released the first group last summer, the birds kept flying down to lower elevations, and eventually settled in an area around 200 meters above sea level. So for this second release, we moved the flight aviary to an area where the macaws could settle without having to move so much.

The first group released is doing well. Seventeen macaws remain in the wild and several pairs of macaws have been observed doing mating behaviors, so it is expected that soon there could be nesting. That would be the first time wild scarlet macaws nested in this area since the 1970s!

All the reintroduced macaws are marked on their bills, wear a tag on their wings and carry a transponder for identification. Some of them are also wearing radio transmitters so that the team of biologists can track them. This gives the team vital information about where the birds go and what sites might be best for future releases. The markers and radio transmitters also help stop attempts of poaching and selling the birds illegally. The birds can very easily be identified by authorities as being part of the reintroduced flocks.

scarlet macaws, © David BahrNo legal capture of this species has been permitted in Mexico since the late 1970s. In 2008 all capture of parrots was banned in Mexico (thanks in good measure to our study of the illegal trade in Mexican parrots), and since then, the rate of parrots disappearing from the wild has declined. Now we’re able to take our work to the next level by restoring the species to its native rainforest.

We and our partners have been working continuously in local communities and schools to teach them about the plight of the scarlet macaw, the environmental laws protecting them, the reintroduction project and its importance for the species and the communities. We supply the field team with posters, coloring books for children and comic books for youths and adults that describe the threats that drove this species from the area in the 1970’s, and how the people who live in the bird’s range have the power to help protect it. This work has already paid dividends —several children have alerted the team when they learn of macaws flying into homes, or of someone trying to capture them. In this way, we can help inspire local communities to play an active role in protecting scarlet macaws.

We were also pleased to create a new rapid identification guide of the birds of Los Tuxtlas. The network of bird monitors that work throughout the area around the release sites, and who give bird watching tours for tourists have found these guides very helpful. They are already offering bird watching tours to see scarlet macaws near the first release site, and very soon they will be able to offer them near the second release site. Bird watching is a sound economic alternative for poor rural communities, bringing beneficial ecotourism into the area. Little by little, the communities of the biosphere reserve see these benefits, and gladly embrace the conservation of the scarlet macaw.

The reintroduction project will continue with more releases soon and into the future, until there is a sustainable wild population of scarlet macaws in Los Tuxtlas – the first in decades! We will continue to bring you updates as the project moves forward.

Guarding the Military Macaw

Learn about our ongoing project to protect another one of Mexico’s beautiful birds, the military macaw, from poaching.

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Categories: Macaw, Mexico, Wildlife

16 Responses to “Flying Free”

  1. Teresa Finnell

    This is wonderful to read about the beautiful Scarlet Macaw! Inspiring too reading about our younger generation getting involved to help stop illegal actions by some. Keep up the good work everyone for these gorgeous birds.

    • Tony burleson

      what ever you are doing stop the anti.killing of all our wildlife they have rights to they are god’s give to us

  2. Leslie Lahr

    Such beautiful creature (aren’t they all?). I agree with Teresa- thanks for all you do.

  3. Brenda Robinson

    Great to hear good news about parrots for a change. Keep up the great work!
    These are such incredible birds! But they belong free in the wild, that is for sure! So happy to hear young people getting involved to help stop illegal actions. Kudos to them! This is the kind of youth we want leading our world in the future. Thank them all for me!
    Hon. Liz Sandals: Introduce a new course called “COMPASSION” for Grade 1 and Grade 12.

  4. lucille

    So happy for the parrots…all birds should not be pets. They don’t belong in cages but free to fly in the air and find their partners where the can make this world a beautiful place.

  5. Kathleen Donnafield

    Thank goodness there is greater awareness of the plight of these magnificent birds and because of biologists efforts to track and protect, these exotic and beautiful creatures will have a chance to thrive in the wild. Humans want to possess what truly belongs only to nature. We have destroyed so much of this earth’s resources through greed but the hard fought efforts of conservationists is also having a positive impact. It’s tragic that there has to be a battle to preserve what is inherently of the wild and should be around forever without the constant threat of extinction because of man’s vile drive to possess, diminish and destroy!

  6. Pat Carnohan

    I don’t know…..Parrots make such loving pets, it’s going to be difficult to stop the trade!

  7. Pat Carnohan

    Say no to any negative treatment of wildlife!

  8. pam lattin


  9. pam lattin

    You miderate my message, dont you ever get in touch with me again

  10. Teresa

    That is wonderful to hear on how the Macaws are doing. What a great success! Nice work!!

  11. MiTmite9

    What Lucille said. And I hope these Macaws live out their lives in peace.

  12. Kelly

    Another way you can protect birds is to hand out information and hold a sign in front of a pet store that sells them. Of course, be sure to make sure where you do it is legal. With accurate information, people can change their minds about owning them. Most people that own these animals get tired of them after a short time. You’ll be doing them a favor by speaking up for the animals.

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