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Extinct parrots

Perroquets éteints
Ara Tricolore naturalisé
Ara Tricolore - dessin
Ara Tricolore - naturalisé
Ara Tricolore - dessin
Ara Tricolore - naturalisé

Tricolor Macaw 

Cuban Macaw -  Hispaniola's Macaw - Cuban Red Macaw

The tricolor macaw (Cuban macaw) was a species of macaw native to the main island of Cuba and the nearby Isla de la Juventud which became extinct at the end of the 19th century. Its relationship to other macaws in the genus Ara is uncertain, but it may have been closely related to the spotted macaw, which has some similarities in appearance. It may also have been closely related, or identical, to the hypothetical Jamaican red macaw. Modern skeletons are not known, but some sub-fossil remains have been found on Cuba.

At around 45-50 centimeters long, the tricolor macaw was one of the smallest macaws. The tricolor macaw had a red forehead discolored to orange and then to yellow at the nape of the neck. He had white, crease-free areas around his eyes, and yellow irises. The face, chin, chest, abdomen and thighs were orange. The legs were brown. The upper back was reddish brown with green scalloped feathers. The rump, lower feathers and lower back were blue. The wing feathers were brown, red and purplish blue. The upper surface of the tail was dark red in color, fading to blue at the tip, and the lower surface of the tail was red-brown. The bill has been variously described as dark black, black, and greyish black. The sexes were identical in outward appearance, as with other macaws; little is known of its behavior, but it is said to have nested in hollow trees, lived in pairs or in families, and fed on seeds and fruit . In 1876, Gundlach wrote that the tricolor macaw ate fruits, seeds of the royal palm (Roystonea regia) and chinaberry tree (Melia azedarach), as well as other seeds and shoots. Cuba has many species of palms, and those found in swamps were probably the most important for the Macaw tricolor.The original distribution of the species on Cuba is unknown, but it may have been limited to the central and western parts of the 'Isle. It has been reported mainly in the vast Zapata Swamp, where it inhabited open terrain with scattered trees.  Nothing is known about its breeding habits or eggs, but a nest reported to fit in the palm of a hand. His speech imitation abilities were inferior to those of other parrots.

The Tricolor Macaw was traded and hunted by Native Americans, and by Europeans after their arrival in the 15th century. Many individuals were brought to Europe as "caged pet birds", and 19 individuals now exist in museums. It had become rare by the mid-19th century due to pressure from hunting, trade and habitat destruction. Hurricanes may also have contributed to its demise. The last reliable accounts of the species are from the 1850s on Cuba and 1864 on Isla de la Juventud, but it may have persisted until 1885.


The first explorers of Cuba, such as Christopher Columbus and Diego Álvarez Chanca, cited macaws on Cuba in the writings of the 14th and 15th centuries. The tricolor macaws have been described and illustrated in several early accounts of the island. In 1811, Johann Matthäus Bechstein scientifically named the species Psittacus tricolor. Bechstein's description was based on the entry of the bird into the Natural History of Parrots by François Le Vaillant (1801) Vaillant's account was itself partially based on the work of Planches Enuminées from the late 1700s. and a specimen in Paris; Since it is not known which specimen it was, the species does not have a holotype. The original watercolor by Jacques Barraband, which was the basis of the plate for Le Vaillant's book, differs from the final illustration by showing feathers coated with bright red wings ("shoulder" area), but the meaning of this is unclear.


Today, 19 dead individuals exist in 15 collections around the world (two at the Tring Natural History Museum, the National Natural History Museum in Paris, the Swedish Museum of Natural History, and the Smithsonian Museum), but many are not clear on their provenance. Several were provided by Juan Gundlach, who collected some of the last individuals who regularly foraged near Zapata Marsh in 1849-50. Some of the preserved specimens are known to have lived in captivity in zoos (such as the Jardin des Plantes in Paris, Berlin Zoo and Amsterdam Zoo) or as "caged pet birds". Several other naturalized skins are known to have existed, but have been lost. There is no record of her eggs.


Modern skeletal remains are not known, but three sub-fossil specimens have been found: half of a carpometacarp from a Pleistocene spring deposit at Ciego Montero, identified by extrapolation from the size of the skins of tricolor macaws and extant macaw bones (reported in 1928).

The Tricolor Macaw would have been "stupid" and slow to escape, and was therefore easily caught. He was killed for food; Gemelli Careri found the meat tasty, but Gundlach considered it tough. Archaeological evidence suggests that the tricolor macaw was hunted in Havana in the 16th and 18th centuries.  

In addition to being kept as pets locally, many Cuban macaws (possibly thousands of specimens) were traded and sent to Europe. This trade has also been suggested as a contributing cause for the extinction. Judging by the number of preserved specimens that originated as captives, the species was probably not uncommon in European zoos and other collections. It was popular as a "caged pet bird," despite its reputation for damaging items with its beak. In addition, collectors have caught young birds by observing adults and chopping down trees they nested in, although sometimes the nesting boxes were accidentally killed. This practice reduced the number of populations and selectively destroyed the species' breeding habitat. A hurricane in 1844 is said to have ruined the Macaw population of Pinar del Río. Subsequent hurricanes in 1846 and 1856 destroyed their habitat in western Cuba and dispersed the remaining population. In addition, a tropical storm hit Zapata Swamp in 1851. With a healthy macaw population, these events could have been beneficial in creating suitable habitat. However, given the precariousness of the species, it may have resulted in fragmented habitat and caused them to search for food in areas where they were more vulnerable to hunting. The date of extinction of the tricolor macaw is uncertain. Gundlach's sightings in Zapata Swamp in the 1850s and Zappey's second-hand report of a pair on the Isle of Juventud in 1864 are the last reliable accounts. In 1886, Gundlach said he believed birds to persist in southern Cuba, which led Greenway to suggest the species survived until 1885.  


To be continued ... under construction

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