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Know Your Subject Matter

by Courtney Capone 20 days ago in Science

And Make Your Subject MATTER

There is nearly a month left on the Scarlet Macaw challenge and as a fierce animal advocate, I'm here to implore all of my fellow creators to please... make your stories COUNT.

First, let me point out a critical word in the challenge description.


These birds are poached to be pets. Stolen from their native habitats and purchased by people who do NOT understand them. They don't know anything about their long lifespan (can be up to NINETY YEARS in captivity) or how big they can get (they stand about 2.7 feet tall and have a wingspan of about 3 feet) and while like most species of parrot, the scarlet macaw is CAPABLE of speech, they mostly scream. A scream that can be heard for MILES and is used to call out to their family members.

A scream that loud inside your home would be rather annoying but when you know its source, it's actually quite sad.

Yes, the challenge is for a fictional story but that doesn't mean it can't include advocacy and real life understanding of the birds you're writing about.

As one example, using the birds as pets only perpetuates the cycle that has left them endangered. I strongly encourage my fellow creators not to grab that low hanging fruit and instead push yourself as a writer to create something more meaningful.

I also implore the Vocal community to consider what this challenge was created for and not allow the winners to be stories that advocate for endangered pets.

In that vein, I'm willing to help my fellow creators by providing a list of FACTS about the Scarlet Macaw. This is research you could easily do on your own, but I've done it for you in the hopes that you will find inspiration in knowing the truth about these beautiful birds and write a fictional story based on that, rather than one about their captivity.

About The Scarlet Macaw:

While the challenge is to help a hospital in Belize where Scarlet Macaws DO live, that's not the only place that they live.

Scarlet Macaws live in tall deciduous trees in forests that span near rivers. Its preferred habitat is humid evergreen forests at elevations from about 1,000 to 3,000 feet. In the wild, it dwells mostly in the canopy and topmost layers of the trees.


Their range spans throughout parts of Mexico, Central America and South America. Their strongest numbers are in South America but they are in peril in Mexico and Central America due to poaching for the illegal and cruel pet trade and habitat loss.

Only a few thousand of these birds remain in the wild.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has supported long-term efforts to conserve scarlet macaws in both Mexico and Honduras with grants. In Mexico, a project in Los Tuxtlas Biosphere Reserve has led to reforestation of over 50 hectares of scarlet macaw habitat and reintroduction of 123 birds to the wild to date. In Honduras, a project in the Moskitia Region has led to an 80% reduction in the number of poached birds and nests through community engagement, in what is now the largest community-patrolled parrot conservation area in Latin America.

Scarlet macaws are mostly vegetarian, predominantly eating nuts, seeds, leaves, and fruits. They occasionally eat insects. Their large and flexible beaks allow them to access unripened fruits and tough nuts that are not possible for most other birds to eat. They can sometimes be found on riverbanks eating clay (a behavior known as geophagy), thought to help them digest harsh, toxic plant materials.

As highly social animals, scarlet macaws are rarely alone in the wild. They live in family groups or in pairs, and they form lifelong monogamous bonds with their mates. While many parrots remain with their mate only during the breeding season, scarlet macaw pairs stay together year-round. Both parents teach and care for their chicks. They typically nest in natural or previously excavated cavities in trees, where the female will incubate a clutch of 1-2 eggs for an average of 28 days. After hatching, both parents feed the chicks 4 to 15 times a day, by regurgitating food for the hatchlings. Chicks fledge from the nest after 3 to 4 months but stay with their parents for up to 1 year - a time of significant learning about how to survive in the forest.


The scarlet macaw is on the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) Appendix 1 list. The commercial trade of these wild birds is forbidden, which means the import of these birds to the U.S. is illegal.


While, like all parrot species, the scarlet macaw can learn to speak, it's really only capable of learning about 5 to 10 words unlike its prolific talker cousin, the blue and gold macaw. However, they're extremely noisy.

Because of their size they are NOT suited to cage life. A scarlet macaw kept inside a cage will develop behavioral problems associated with stress and anxiety such as feather plucking. It will literally pull out its own feathers in distress. They are known to perform other acts of self-mutilation as well.


They get bored in captivity which lowers their immune system and not understanding their dietary needs leads to many diseases such as macaw wasting syndrome (proventricular dilation disease), parrot fever (psittacosis), and psittacine beak and feather disease (viral infection).

Overgrown beaks are also sometimes a problem because in the wild, their beaks are used to crack open hard nuts and unripened fruits, keeping it trim. In captivity they don't get this opportunity and the neglect of this behavior destroys them.

These are active and large birds that are simply not suitable for captivity. They will fly themselves into windows or escape the second a door opens to free themselves which puts them in grave danger. Due to this, many owners opt to clip their wings, taking away their flight.


When a species is suddenly introduced to an area they are NOT native to, they either take over as an invasive species or they die off because they're not suited to the elements around them.

In Florida, scarlet macaws have been found in the wild either having been released here or they escaped here. But they're not reproducing.

In people's homes, they often bite (and it HURTS because their beaks are so strong), especially children who do not understand the bird's warning signs or become too aggressive with them. They also typically outlive their owners. Their lifespan is so long that to get one as an adult, means this is a pet (that is NOT meant to be a pet) that WILL outlive you.


"Responsible" macaw owners (that's in quotes because responsible people do not own endangered species that are not suitable as pets) have wills that dictate where their birds will go after the event of their death but macaws will attach to the people they're with. These are SOCIAL birds so if they can't be with their own kind, they will become bonded with the humans they live with. They will also be possessive of them so if you're single, anyone you date better watch out.

So when that person dies and they're sent to live with someone else, they don't like it. They attack them. They scream out for the person they were used to. And then... they're either released, escape, or sent to live at a bird sanctuary. The latter is the best option for them, but still doesn't hold a candle to LEAVING THEM IN THE WILD WHERE THEY BELONG.

So.... now you know about them

The only question that remains is... what are you going to write about it?


Advocate. Don't further their captivity. Not. Even. In. Fiction.


Courtney Capone

A veterinary technician, writer and animal advocate from New York. Currently living in South Florida and desperately trying to escape. Runs on Starbucks and the love of her husband and 7 rescue animals.

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