(Ara ararauna) are beautiful and intelligent birds.
Like parrots, they can mimic the sounds of humans.
However, the most striking characteristic of macaws are the vibrant colours of their feathers which also gives them their name.
The feathers on their back, wings and tail are blue while the ones on their breastbone, belly and legs are yellow. But their beauty have placed them in danger.
Aliya Hosein, an ornithologist and regional coordinator for the Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival, explained to Newsday Kids, “People want to keep macaws as pets but I would tell them don’t.
“While these birds are gorgeous to look at, the furthest thing from the truth is that it’s easy to keep them in cages and just give them water and sunflower seeds.”
While macaws are found in Trinidad, they also inhabit the rainforests of South America where many chicks are stolen from trees to be sold.
It is known that macaws are poached from Venezuela and smuggled to Trinidad where they are often sold as pets.
“For us in Trinidad, we don’t have macaw breeders so all of our macaws that end up as pets are wild macaws that are caught,” Hosein said.
The illegal trade of the birds is dangerous to them in many ways. Macaws being smuggled often die or are injured.
At the Pointe-a-Pierre Wild Fowl Trust, lives a survivor of trafficking in the birds. Visitors, directed to the trust’s learning centre, are greeted by Frankie, a blue-and-yellow macaw that was smuggled into Trinidad, in a sock, in 2009. When he was rescued from smugglers, Frankie’s wing bones were severely broken leaving him unable to fly. Frankie is one of many macaws that suffer this fate.
The threats macaws face continue when they are kept as pets. They are fed simple diets of water and sunflower seeds. But their diets are more complex in the wild, Hosein explained.
Macaws are granivores which means they feed on seeds and grain. They may also eat small insects, leaves and flowers.
While they may help disperse seeds like other birds, at times they may also destroy seeds when feeding.
“Because they are granivores, they often go for the seeds of fruits so they destroy the seeds.
“That is why researchers may sometimes say they are antagonists and don’t really do much for plants because they destroy the seeds unlike other birds which may just eat the fruit and disperse of the seeds."
Also it’s illegal to keep macaws as pets as the birds are protected under TT’s Conservation of Wildlife Act.
Removing macaws from the wild has other effects.
When macaws find a mate, they stick with it for life. When incubating eggs, the female macaw will often guard the eggs while the male gathers food. They also teach the chicks how to forage for food and integrate into flocks. So when a macaw is taken from the wild, they are taken from their families.
At one point, macaws were extinct in Trinidad but there have been efforts to reintroduce them to the wild.
The Wild Fowl Trust has a programme where they breed macaws and release them in an effort to increase their numbers.
The trust’s education officer Jaleen West gave a breakdown of the programme.
“The Pointe-a-Pierre Wild Fowl Trust has been breeding blue-and-yellow macaws since 1993.
“We’ve done two releases in the Nariva Swamp and two releases in Central and the Wild Fowl Trust.
“The birds are reared by their parents and we have very minimal human interaction.”
The macaws in the trust’s programme are given the nuts and seeds which they eat in the wild.
When the macaws are released, the trust tags and keeps track of them and gain insight into their lives in the wild. To date, the trust has released over 50 birds into the wild.