Archived 2020 topic: Great Green Macaw (Ara ambiguus): request for information

BirdLife species factsheet for Great Green Macaw

Great Green Macaw occurs from Honduras through Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama south to Colombia and western Ecuador. It inhabits humid and wet lowland and foothill forest, but is also found in dry deciduous forest and occasionally in edge habitat and open areas (Fjeldså et al. 1987, Juniper and Parr 1998, Berg et al. 2007). It is found mainly below 600 m, but occurs to 1,000 m and occasionally up to 1,500 m. It nests in tree cavities, preferably in Dipertyx panamensis (Macaw Recovery Network 2020).

The species has a disjunct range and localised distribution. The population in Honduras currently numbers c. 400 individuals (H. O. Portillo Reyes per S. Nazeri in litt. 2020), which roughly equates to 260 mature individuals. The population in northern Costa Rica and southern Nicaragua numbered less than 200 individuals, equating to c. 130 mature individuals, in 2019 (Macaw Recovery Network 2019). In Ecuador, Great Green Macaw occurs in two disjunct subpopulations, with a total of up to 50-70 individuals, equating to 35-50 mature individuals, in 2020 (M. Moens per S. Nazeri in litt. 2020). The species’s strongholds are thought to be the Darién region in Colombia and adjacent Panama. In 2014, the population in Colombia was estimated at up to 1,700 mature individuals (Renjifo et al. 2014); however recent population data are not available for either Colombia or Panama (S. Lopez Serna and B. Schmitt per S. Nazeri in litt. 2020). The global population is  tentatively placed here in the band 1,500-2,500 mature individuals, though this number requires confirmation.

Great Green Macaw is very sensitive to habitat disturbance (Collar et al. 2020). Throughout its range, forests are logged mainly for agricultural use, conversion into plantations, settlements, expansion of the road network and mining (Stattersfield et al. 1998). The species is furthermore captured for the pet trade, for food and feathers, and shot as a crop pest (Juniper and Parr 1998, Collar et al. 2020). Despite intensive conservation efforts particularly in Costa Rica and Ecuador, the species is in rapid decline (Collar et al. 2020).

Great Green Macaw is currently listed as Endangered under Criterion A2cd+3cd+4cd (BirdLife International 2020). However, new information regarding the population trend in Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Ecuador as well as uncertainty over the population size and trend in Honduras, Panama and Colombia require a reassessment against all Red List criteria:

Criterion A – The species is undergoing a decline caused by habitat destruction and capture for the cagebird trade, but the overall rate is difficult to assess. The timeframe relevant to calculate the population reduction for Criterion A is three generation lengths, i.e. 33.6 years (see Bird et al. 2020)*.

Based on currently available information, we can quantify the rate of the decline for the subpopulations in Ecuador and in Nicaragua-Costa Rica: While the overall population in Ecuador numbered c. 60-90 individuals in 2002, it declined to 50-70 in 2020 (Benítez et al. 2002, E. Horstman and M. Moens per S. Nazeri in litt. 2020). This equates to a rate of decline of 34% over three generations for the national population in Ecuador, which meets the threshold for Vulnerable. The subpopulation in Nicaragua and Costa Rica numbered 834 individuals in 2009, but was estimated at only up to 200 individuals in 2019 (Monge et al. 2010, Macaw Recovery Network 2019). This equates to a decline of 99% over three generations for Nicaragua and Costa Rica, which meets the threshold for Critically Endangered.

We have no information on the rate of population changes in Honduras and in Panama-Colombia. In view of the threats that the species is facing, it is highly likely that the species is undergoing rapid declines also in these countries. The national population in Colombia has been estimated as declining by 50-79% over three generations in 2014, which led to a national assessment as Endangered (Renjifo et al. 2014). However, studies are lacking to assess the current population trend and rate of decline of this subpopulation. We therefore ask for recent information on the population trend in Honduras and in Panama-Colombia. Does the estimated decline by 50-79% over three generations in Colombia still hold true? What is the rate of population change in Honduras?

Criterion B – The Extent of Occurrence (EOO) for this species is 1,100,000 km2. The maximum Area of Occupancy (AOO), calculated as a 4 km2 grid over the area of mapped range, is c. 117,000 km2. The range is too large to warrant listing as threatened, and Great Green Macaw is hence considered Least Concern under this criterion.

Criterion C – The global population is preliminarily estimated at 1,500-2,500 mature individuals. This meets the threshold for Endangered under Criterion C; however in order to be listed under this criterion further conditions must be fulfilled.

Great Green Macaw is undergoing a decline, but the overall rate of decline is not known. Hence, with the currently available information the species cannot be assessed against subcriterion 1. The species is thought to form several disjunct subpopulations, the largest of which is found in Colombia and Panama. In 2014 this subpopulation was thought to number around 1,700 mature individuals and to be in fast decline (Renjifo et al. 2014), but we have no recent information on the status of this subpopulation. Therefore, in order to fully assess the species against Criterion C, we are asking for up-to-date information on the size and trend of the subpopulation in Panama and Colombia. What is the current population size in Colombia and Panama? Is the species still undergoing a decline by 50-79% over three generations in Colombia, as stated in Renjifo et al. (2014)?

Criterion D – The population size is estimated at roughly 1,500-2,500 mature individuals. Assuming that the true population size is closer to the lower end of the estimate, the species qualifies as Near Threatened, approaching the threshold for listing as threatened under Criterion D1.

Criterion E – To the best of our knowledge no quantitative analysis of extinction risk has been conducted for this species. Therefore, it cannot be assessed against this criterion.

Overall, it is highly likely that Great Green Macaw (Ara ambiguus) warrants listing as threatened under Criterion A and potentially also under C; however, the currently available data does not allow a full assessment against these criteria. We therefore ask for recent information on the size and trend of the populations in Honduras, Panama and Colombia.

Please note that this topic is not designed to be a general discussion about the ecology of the species, rather a discussion of its Red List status. Therefore, please make sure your comments are relevant to the discussion outlined in the topic. By submitting a comment, you confirm that you agree to the Comment Policy.

*Bird generation lengths are estimated using the methodology of Bird et al. (2020), as applied to parameter values updated for use in each IUCN Red List for birds reassessment cycle. Values used for the current assessment are available on request. We encourage people to contact us with additional or improved values for the following parameters; adult survival (true survival accounting for dispersal derived from an apparently stable population); mean age at first breeding; and maximum longevity (i.e. the biological maximum, hence values from captive individuals are acceptable).

An information booklet on the Red List Categories and Criteria can be downloaded here and the Red List Criteria Summary Sheet can be downloaded here. Detailed guidance on IUCN Red List terms and definitions and the application of the Red List Categories and Criteria can be downloaded here.


Benítez, V.; Jahn, O.; Valenzuela, P. M.; Berg, K. 2002. Guacamayo Verde Mayor (Ara ambigua). In: Granizo, T.; Pacheco, C.; Ribadeira, M. B.; Guerrero, M.; Suárez, L. (ed.), Libro rojo de las aves del Ecuador, pp. 83-84. SIMBIOE/Conservation International, Quito, Ecuador.

Berg, K. S.; Socola, J.; Angel, R. R. 2007. Great Green Macaws and the annual cycle of their food plants in Ecuador. Journal of Field Ornithology 78(1): 1-10.

Bird, J. P.; Martin, R.; Akçakaya, H. R.; Gilroy, J.; Burfield, I. J.; Garnett, S.; Symes, A.; Taylor, J.; Šekercioğlu, Ç.; Butchart, S. H. M. 2020. Generation lengths of the world’s birds and their implications for extinction risk. Conservation Biology online first view.

BirdLife International. 2020. Species factsheet: Ara ambiguus. (Accessed 29 April 2020).

Collar, N.; Boesman, P. F. D.; Sharpe, C. J. 2020. Great Green Macaw (Ara ambiguus), version 1.0. In: del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J.; Christie, D. A.; de Juana, E. (eds.). Birds of the World. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. (Accessed 29 April 2020).

Fjeldså, J.; Krabbe, N.; Ridgely, R. S. 1987. Great Green Macaw Ara ambigua collected in northwest Ecuador with taxonomic comments on Ara militaris. Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club 107: 28-31.

Juniper, T.; Parr, M. 1998. Parrots: a guide to the parrots of the world. Pica Press, Robertsbridge, UK.

Macaw Recovery Network. 2019. Great Green Macaw roost count, October 2019. Internal report.

Macaw Recovery Network. 2020. Great Green Macaw (Ara ambiguus) wild breeding. Internal report.

Monge, G.; Chassot, O.; Ramírez, O.; Alemán, I. ; Figueroa, A. 2010. Censo poblacional durante el periodo reproductivo de la subpoblación de Ara ambiguus en el sureste de Nicaragua y norte de Costa Rica 2009. Zeledonia 14(2): 12-24.

Renjifo, L. M.; Gomez, M. F.; Velasquez-Tibata, J.; Amaya-Villarreal, A. M.; Kattan, G. H.; Amaya-Espinel, J. D.; Burbano-Giron, J., 2014. Libro rojo de aves de Colombia, Volumen I: bosques humedos de los Andes y la costa Pacifica. Editorial Pontificia Universidad Javeriana and Instituto Alexander von Humboldt, Bogota, Colombia.

Stattersfield, A. J.; Crosby, M. J.; Long, A. J.; Wege, D. C. 1998. Endemic bird areas of the world: priorities for bird conservation. BirdLife International, Cambridge, U.K.

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7 Responses to Archived 2020 topic: Great Green Macaw (Ara ambiguus): request for information

  1. I think the two documents referenced below might be helpful, as they review all the information available in Colombia for this species until 2011 (not much more has been produced since then anyway).

    Botero-Delgadillo, E. & Páez, C.A. 2011. Estado actual del conocimiento y conservación de los loros amenazados de Colombia. Conservación Colombiana 14:86-151.

    Botero-Delgadillo, E. & Páez, C.A. 2011. Plan de acción para la conservación de los loros amenazados de Colombia 2010–2020: avances, logros y perspectivas. Conservación Colombiana 14:7-16.

  2. Copiado de / copied from: Alex Cortés, Juan Carlos Luna, Andrea Borrero, y Juan Lazaro Toro (2020) Evaluación de especies de aves amenazadas en Colombia / Evaluation of Threatened Birds Species in Colombia. Conservación Colombiana 27: 3-31.

    “En Colombia, Ara ambiguus ocurre con densidades muy bajas en tierras bajas y húmedas y bosques de colinas en el Chocó desde el departamento de Nariño hasta el departamentos de Choco, aunque aparentemente está ausente en los departamentos de Cauca y Valle. Para Cualquier observador de aves, la especie es obvia y realmente no se puede confundir, pues en sus movimientos entre sitios (algunas veces a largas distancias), presenta un vuelo bajo con llamadas fuertes inequívocas.

    La fortaleza de Ara ambiguus en Colombia son las tierras bajas del Darién y los bosques adyacentes de Urabá que están siendo rápidamente deforestados. La especie está aún siendo visto de forma fiable en un área de 100km2 en los bosques de las tierras bajas húmedas de Urabá al este del rio Atrato / Serranía de Baudó, sin embargo, estos individuos pueden ser las últimas poblaciones relictuales que sobreviven. Porque el área era hasta hace 20-30 años con bosques en gran parte intacto. Global Forest Watch (2020), señala que de 2001 a 2019, los 100 km2 de esta área perdieron 19.3 km2 de cobertura arbórea, lo que equivale a una disminución del 21% en esta cobertura desde el año 2000.

    Desde el proceso de paz con las FARC, la deforestación se ha acelerado con un promedio de pérdida de 2.0% año tras año desde el año 2016 (datos de Global Forest Watch). Además, todo este bosque ha sido diezmado por la tala selectiva de los principales árboles madereros, incluido el ” Choibá ” (Dipteryx oleifera). que son vitales como sitios de alimentación y anidación para Ara ambiguus. No hay bloques importantes de bosque intacto que sobrevivan ahora.

    En 2015, ProAves compró y protegió un área de 2.296 hectáreas: un pequeño bosque intacto y, lamentablemente, la única área protegida estricta o activa en la región y la última representación de bosques intactos que contiene Ara ambiguus (aunque no hay confirmación de cría), en las tierras bajas y estribaciones del nudo de Paramillo y la serranía de la región del Urabá. No tenemos evidencia de individuos capturados para el comercio ilegal de aves, o para cacería de subsistencia, aunque es muy probable que los cazadores los maten a tiros cuando sobrevuelan bajo.

    La estimación de la población en Colombia de hasta 1.700 individuos maduros (Renjifo 2014) es trágicamente incorrecta. Con base en dos décadas de experiencia de campo el personal de ProAves estima la presencia de 50 pares (100 individuos) sobreviviendo en todo el rango de presencia de la especie, y casi con certeza estos individuos relictuales maduros con sitios de anidación muy limitados enfrentan procesos acelerados de destrucción y fragmentación del hábitat.

    En 2020, ProAves lanzó un programa de emergencia en colaboración con la cadena de supermercados colombiana “Ara” para estudiar y proteger la especie.

    ProAves recomienda que Ara ambiguus continúe figurando como En Peligro bajo el Criterio A2cd + 3cd + 4cd, aunque reconocemos que la población nacional en Colombia debe estar listado con status de Crítico disminuyendo en> 90% en tres generaciones ( A1 ) y probablemente se extinguirá en 3 generaciones en Colombia.”

  3. Copiado de / copied from: Alex Cortés, Juan Carlos Luna, Andrea Borrero, y Juan Lazaro Toro (2020) Evaluación de especies de aves amenazadas en Colombia / Evaluation of Threatened Birds Species in Colombia. Conservación Colombiana 27: 3-31.

    “In Colombia, Ara ambiguus occurs at very low densities in humid and wet lowland and foothill forest in the Choco from Nariño to Choco departments, although seemingly absent from Cauca and Valle departments. The species is obvious to any birder with low-level flight with loud unmistakable calls as they move between sites (often long-distances) means they really cannot be missed.

    The Ara ambiguus stronghold in Colombia is the Darién lowlands and adjacent Uraba forests that are rapidly being devastated. The species is still reliably seen in an area of 100km2 of lowland wet Uraba forests east of the rio Atrato / Serrania de Baudo, however these individuals may be the last relict populations that survive. Because the area was until 20-30 years ago largely intact forest. Global Forest Watch (2020), notes that from 2001 to 2019, the 100 km2 this area lost 19.3 km2 of tree cover, equivalent to a 21% decrease in tree cover since 2000.

    Since the FARC peace process deforestation has accelerated with an average 2.0% lost year on year since 2016 (Global Forest Watch data). Furthermore, all of this forest has been decimated by selective logging for major timber-able trees, including “Choibá” (Dipteryx oleifera.). that are vital as foraging and nesting sites for Ara ambiguus. No major blocks of intact forest now surviving.

    In 2015, ProAves purchased and protected an area of 2,296 has – a small last intact forests and sadly the sole strict or active protected area in the region and last representation of intact lowland and foothill Uraba forest and nudo de Paramillo, which contains Ara ambiguous although there is no confirmation of breeding. We have no evidence of individuals trapped for the cage bird trade or for food, although it is highly likely they are shot and killed by hunters when flying over.

    The population estimate in Colombia of up to 1,700 mature individuals (Renjifo 2014) is tragically incorrect. Based on two decades of field experience across the species range, ProAves staff estimates that there are no more than 50 pairs (100 individuals) surviving in Colombia and almost certainly those pairs and individuals are relict mature individuals with very limited nesting sites and accelerating habitat destruction and fragmentation.

    In 2020, ProAves launched an emergency program in collaboration with the Colombian supermarket chain “Ara” to study and protect the species.

    ProAves recommends that Ara ambiguous continue to be listed as Endangered under Criterion A2cd+3cd+4cd, although we recognize that the national population in Colombia is Critically Endangered declining by >90% over three generations (A1) and will likely be extinct within 3 generations in Colombia.”

  4. Dear Reviewers,

    In Ecuador, the Great Green Macaw has been assessed as Critically Endangered under A2cd+3cd+4cd; C1+2a(i) (Freile et al. 2019).

    Ara ambiguus occurs as two subspecies, with the nominate subspecies occurring from southern Guatemala to North-west Columbia and guayaquilensis subspecies occurring in Western Ecuador (Fjeldså et al, 1987). The validity of the subspecies guayaquilensis is contentious, with a recent study finding no genetic differentiation among the two subspecies (Eberhard et al. 2015). The conclusions of this study are limited by the fact that a very low sample size of five was analyzed, precluding the resolution of minor differences. There are conflicting estimates of the total size of the Ecuadorian population, which some have put as low as 30 individuals (Horstman in litt. 2012), and others as 60-90 individuals. A single flock of 36 birds photographed in Fundación Jocotoco’s Canandé Reserve in Esmeraldas province in fall 2013 by our park guards indicates a total of at least 50 individuals, thus less than 40 mature individuals within the northern subpopulation.

    The identity of the subspecies of birds in the wet Chocó forests in northern Ecuador has not been confirmed. A total of 15 Great Green Macaws are found in the las Balsas area (Santa Elena Province, Ecuador), based on the monitoring data obtained through a Great Green Macaw conservation project, done by Fundación Jocotoco. Thus, the population of wild A. a. guayaquilensis can be as low as fifteen birds if birds from northern Esmeraldas belong to A. ambiguus ambiguus and does most likely not exceed 100 birds. The subspecies (Ara ambiguus guayaquilensis) is thus an Ecuadorian endemic and critically endangered under criterion C2ai.

    Fundación Jocotoco is carrying out a reintroduction program with Loro Parque Fundación and Centro de Rescate Jambeli for Ara ambiguus guayaquilensis in two of their reserves (Ayampe and Las Balsas) in the coastal Chongón-Colonche mountains. Since 2017, we have released 19 individuals, 13 in Ayampe Reserve close to Puerto Lopez (Manabi province, Ecuador) and six in las Balsas reserve (Santa Elena province, Ecuador). These data are not relevant for the assessment per se, but show that conservation projects are urgently needed to save the species from local extinction.

    In conclusion, the population of Great Green Macaws is estimated under 100 individuals in Ecuador and under 30 for the subspecies guayaquilensis, as of known today. Since the total population of mature individuals is less than 250 mature individuals and no subpopulation exceeds 50 mature individuals in combination with deforestation and pet trade as drivers of further population decline, the Great Green Macaw should be listed as CR under criterion C2ai, at least in Ecuador.

    Eberhard J, Iñigo-Elias E, Enkerlin-Hoeflich E & P.Cun. 2015. Phylogeography of the Military Macaw (Ara militaris) and the Great Green Macaw (A. Ambiguus) Based on MTDNA Sequence Data. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, 127(4):661-669.

    Fjeldså, J., Krabbe, N. & Ridgely, R. S. 1987. Great Green Macaw Ara ambigua collected in northwest Ecuador, with taxonomic comments on Ara militaris. Bulletin British Ornithologists’ Club 107: 28–31.

    Freile, J. F., T. Santander G., L. Carrasco, D. F. Cisneros-Heredia, E. A. Guevara, M. Sánchez-Nivicela y B. A. Tinoco. (2019). Lista roja de las aves del Ecuador continental. Ministerio del Ambiente, Aves y Conservación, Comité Ecuatoriano de Registros Ornitológicos, Universidad del Azuay, Red Aves Ecuador y Universidad San Francisco de Quito. Quito, Ecuador.

  5. Red List Team (BirdLife International) says:

    Many thanks to everyone who has contributed to this discussion. We greatly appreciate the time and effort invested by so many people in commenting. The window for consultation is now closed. We will analyse and interpret the new information and post a preliminary decision on this species’s Red List status on this page in early July.

    Thank you once again,
    BirdLife Red List Team

  6. Red List Team (BirdLife International) says:

    Preliminary proposal

    New information submitted here allows us to recalculate the overall population size and likely rate of decline. Survey data from Colombia suggests that the previous estimate of c. 1,700 mature individuals is largely overestimated and that the population currently numbers only 100 mature individuals. Based on this number, the global population is now estimated to number at least 525 mature individuals; to account for uncertainty and a potentially small population in southern Panama the population is here placed in the band 500-1,000 mature individuals.

    As outlined in the topic text, declines can be quantified for the populations in Costa Rica and Nicaragua as well as in Ecuador. New information indicates that the declines in Colombia amount to at least 50-79% over three generations. Even under a hypothetical best-case scenario, assuming that the populations in Honduras and Panama may be stable, overall declines would still exceed 90% over three generations.

    Based on available information, our preliminary proposal for the 2020 Red List would be to list Great Green Macaw as Critically Endangered under Criterion A4abcd.

    There is now a period for further comments until the final deadline in mid-July, after which the recommended categorisations will be put forward to IUCN.

    Please note that we will then only post final recommended categorisations on forum discussions where these differ from the initial proposal.

    The final 2020 Red List categories will be published on the BirdLife and IUCN websites in December 2020/January 2021, following further checking of information relevant to the assessments by both BirdLife and IUCN.

  7. Red List Team (BirdLife International) says:

    Recommended categorisation to be put forward to IUCN

    The final categorisation for this species has not changed. Great Green Macaw is recommended to be listed as Critically Endangered under Criterion A4abcd.

    Many thanks for everyone who contributed to the 2020 GTB Forum process. The final 2020 Red List categories will be published on the BirdLife and IUCN websites in December 2020/January 2021, following further checking of information relevant to the assessments by both BirdLife and IUCN.

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