Last Updated on March 4, 2023 by Ali Shahid
Cuban macaws (Tri Color) are extinct species of macaw. Typically, they are found on the main island of Cuba, as well as a smaller island nearby, called Isla de la Juventud. During the late 19th century, it became extinct.
For a long time, it was unclear how it is related to other macaws. Yet, it looks similar to scarlet macaws. In addition, it may have looked like the Jamaican red macaw, which was a hypothetical bird.
In a DNA study from 2018, it was found to be the sister species to two red and two green macaws. A Cuban macaw was one of the smallest macaws, measuring about 45–50 centimeters (18–20 inches).
At one time, the species was restricted to Cuba’s central and western regions, but its distribution is unknown today.
It mostly inhabited the vast Zapata Swamp, where there were scattered trees and open terrain. If you are interested in learning more about Cuban macaw then make sure to read this article.
History of Cuban Macaw
The Macaw has been around for a very long time, but it wasn’t until the 15th century that they were recorded. Originally from Cuba, they had little habitat beyond its borders.
They had a strong population in the Zapata Swamp in Cuba, but the exact extent of their range there isn’t known. Native Americans and Europeans caught and traded them in the 15th century.
For the next 300 years, they remained popular as pets, showing up in several royal aviaries.
These birds lived just over 30 years on average, but could live as long as 60 if they lived in the right conditions! Sadly, even their longer lifespan wasn’t enough to save them.
Cuban macaws have red foreheads that fade to orange, then yellow. It had a yellow iris and bare skin around its eyes. These macaws had orange faces, chins, chests, abdomens, and thighs.
There was a brownish-red color on the upper back, and the feathers were striped with green. There were blue feathers on the rump, beneath the tail, and on the lower back. They had brown, red, and purple feathers.
The top surface of the tail faded from dark red to blue at the tip, and the underside was brownish red. There are different descriptions of the beak, including dark, all-black, and greyish-black. Similar to other macaws, the sexes looked the same.
Unlike the scarlet macaw, the Cuban macaw doesn’t have a yellow shoulder patch, has an all-black beak, and is smaller. The Cuban macaw grew to a length of about 50 centimeters (20 inches).
An adult wing measures 27.5–29 centimeters (10.8–11.4 in), while an adult tail measures 21.5–29 centimeters (8.5–11.4 in). Similar features could be seen in other species of Ara as well.
He didn’t give any sources, but Austin Hobart Clark said juvenile Cuban macaws are green. Green birds have been spotted on the island, but it is impossible to determine whether they are juvenile Cuban macaws or feral military macaws.
Cuban macaws and their extinct Caribbean relatives have been poorly understood in terms of their behavior.
In the report by Gundlach, the animal was noted for its loud vocalizations, like its Central American relatives, and for living in pairs or families.
It has been reported that its ability to imitate speech is less than that of other parrots.
It is not clear whether or not this species reproduces or breeds, but the female lays eggs, and their nests are often hollow trees. There’s not enough evidence to support monogamy in other species like the Dominican macaw, which is also extinct.
Gundlach says the Cuban macaw eats fruits, seeds, and shoots from royal palms and chinaberry trees. The Cuban macaw feeds primarily on palm trees found in swamps.
It is most likely that the Cuban macaw consumed the pulp surrounding the seeds of the chinaberry tree.
Extinction of Cuban Macaw
Cuban macaw extinction has been attributed to hunting. The native Americans in the Caribbean hunted, kept, and traded parrots before Europeans arrived. The Cuban macaw was dumb and slow to escape, so it was easy to catch.
Gundlach considered its meat to be tough, but Gemelli Careri found it tasty. In the 16th-18th centuries, archaeology suggests Cuban macaws were hunted in Havana. Though it did not live near dwellings, it may have been considered a crop pest.
Thousands of Cuban macaws were traded and sent to Europe, as well as kept as pets. This trade has also been suggested as a contributing cause of extinction.
Considering the number of preserved specimens from European zoos and collections, this species was probably not uncommon. Although it was known for damaging items with its beak, it was popular as a cagebird.
Moreover, collectors used to destroy nestlings by felling trees where they nested and observing adults. As a result, the species’ breeding habitat was destroyed and its population dwindled.
Cuban parakeets and Cuban amazons continue to be collected this way. Hurricanes in 1844 destroyed Pinar del Rio’s Cuban macaw population. Their habitat was further destroyed by hurricanes in 1846 and 1856.
The Zapata Swamp was also hit by a tropical storm in 1851. The creation of suitable habitats could have been beneficial for a healthy macaw population.
However, they might have looked for food in more vulnerable areas because of their precarious situation. Cuban macaws are believed to have gone extinct at some point in the past.
In the 1850s, Gundlach reported seeing a pair in the Zapata Swamp, and in 1864, Zappey reported seeing a pair on Isla de la Juventud. Greenway suggested that the species survived until 1885 after Gundlach wrote that birds persisted in southern Cuba.
It’s often the parrots that get wiped out first in a given place. Errol Fuller claims that aviculturists have bred birds like the Cuban macaw. Although these birds are bred from larger macaws, they’re reportedly bigger than Cuban macaws
Ultimately, the Cuban Macaw illustrates the dangers of not conserving animals. As humans destroyed their natural habitat and hunted them extensively, their natural range was limited. As many animals are on the verge of extinction today, we should pay attention to this cautionary tale.
Wiley, James W., and Guy M. Kirwan. “The extinct macaws of the West Indies with special reference to Cuban Macaw, Ara tricolor.” Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club 133.2 (2013): 125-156.
Ali Shahid is a veterinarian by profession and an animal lover. He loves to give expert opinions about different animals. He has worked in top organization of birds like Bigbird Feed and Poultry Research institute. He loves birds, especially parrots and has great experience in different parrot farms.