Great Green Macaw Ara ambiguus


Justification of Red List category
This species qualifies as Critically Endangered because extensive habitat destruction and capture for the cagebird trade are causing extremely rapid and continuing population declines. These threats have had such a significant impact that the total population is now very small.

Population justification
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, the species 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). In 2014, the population in Colombia was estimated at up to 1,700 mature individuals (Botero-Delgadillo and Páez 2011; Renjifo et al. 2014); however this is now considered an overestimate, with the true population size closer to 100 mature individuals (Fundación ProAves in litt. 2020). For Panama, recent population data is not available (B. Schmitt per S. Nazeri in litt. 2020). Based on these national numbers, the global population is now estimated to number at least 525 mature individuals; to account for uncertainty and an additional population in southern Panama, the global population is here placed in the band 500-1,000 mature individuals.

Trend justification
The species is undergoing a decline caused by habitat destruction and capture for the cagebird trade. 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. 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. Declines in Colombia further amount to at least 50-79% over three generations (Fundación ProAves in litt. 2020). There is no information on the rate of population changes in Honduras and Panama. In view of the threats that the species is facing, it is highly likely that the species is also undergoing rapid declines in these countries. Overall, the global population is estimated to decline at 80-99% over three generations.

Distribution and population

Ara ambiguus occurs as two subspecies. The nominate race occurs from Honduras to north-west Colombia, and the race guayaquilensis is endemic to western Ecuador (Fjeldså et al. 1987). In Panama, it is locally fairly common on the Caribbean slope and in Darién near Cana, Alturas de Nique (G. Angehr in litt. 1993, 2005; C. J. Sharpe in litt. 2011) and adjacent Colombia (P. Salaman in litt. 1999), and occurs in Serranía de Majé and south Cerro Hoya (Robbins et al. 1985). In Colombia, it is found in the Nariño and Chocó departments, with the stronghold being the Darién lowlands and Uraba forests east of the río Atrato and Serranía de Baudó (Fundacíon ProAves in litt. 2020). In Honduras, it is restricted to the Moskitia region and is now rare near the río Plátano (Snyder et al. 2000; Portillo-Reyes 2018). In Nicaragua, it persists in the Bosawas Reserve and the Indio-Maíz and San Juan Reserve (C. J. Sharpe in litt. 1999; O. Chassot verbally 2004). The Sarapiqui region in northern Costa Rica is one of the last strongholds for the species (S. Williams per S. Nazeri in litt. 2020). In Ecuador, the majority of the population is found in Esmeraldas and the Cordillera de Chongón-Colonche, Guayas (Snyder et al. 2000; Benítez 2002). However, within range its distribution is quite local, it being absent from several remote areas (G. Angehr in litt. 2005).


It inhabits humid and wet lowland, foothill and (in south-western Ecuador) dry deciduous forest (Benítez et al. 2002; Berg et al. 2007), but occurs in edge habitats and crosses open areas (Fjeldså et al. 1987; Juniper and Parr 1998). It is found mainly below 600 m, but occurs to 1,000 m and occasionally 1,500 m in Darién. In Costa Rica, it strongly prefers Dipteryx panamensis as principal nesting tree, with 87% of all active nests found on this tree (Macaw Recovery Network 2020); local movements may reflect the asynchronous fruiting of Dipteryx panamensis (Powell et al. 1995; Juniper and Parr 1998). Breeding pairs typically produce 1-2 chicks per breeding season (Macaw Recovery Network 2019). In south-western Ecuador, it breeds in June-November, and nests in cavities of dead Cavanillesia plantanifolia trees (Berg and Horstman 1996; López-Lanús et al. 1999). Orchids made up 71% of the diet of a pair watched in Ecuador, and their feeding range was estimated at 2,000 ha (López-Lanús et al. 1999). In the non-breeding season, it tends to form flocks that disperse over large distances in search of food (O. Chassot verbally 2004; O. Jahn in litt. 2004, 2005).


In Central America, original vegetation is converted for agriculture, plantations, cattle-ranching and logging (Stattersfield et al. 1998; S. Nazeri in litt. 2020). Dipteryx panamensis is selectively logged in Costa Rica (Powell et al. 1995). Pineapple plantations are rapidly expanding and replacing tropical forest habitat in Costa Rica (S. Nazeri in litt. 2020). Annual deforestation rates are high throughout its range (FAO 2001). Deforestation in Panama probably exceeds 30% of its original range (G. Angehr in litt. 2005) and in some other countries (e.g., Costa Rica and Ecuador) the historical range was reduced by ~90 % over the past 100 years (Chassot et al. 2002; O. Jahn in litt. 2004, 2005). In its South American range, plans to colonise and develop remoter areas are progressing through infrastructural improvements, particularly the rapid expansion of the road network, which has increased the impact of logging, small-scale agriculture, illegal coca plantations, gold mining, and hunting, which is also affecting some key protected areas (Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund 2001; Álvarez 2002; Benítez et al. 2002). Large areas of western Ecuador are being purchased, denuded of forest and converted to industrial oil palm plantations (Sharpe 1999). Urbanisation and agriculture have largely extirpated race guayaquilensis, and it is reportedly shot as a crop-pest (Pople et al. 1997; Juniper and Parr 1998). There is illegal capture for (mostly internal) trade, food and feathers (Low 1995; Powell et al. 1995; Sharpe 1999; C. J. Sharpe in litt. 1999; Snyder et al. 2000; Benítez et al. 2002).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix I and II, and part of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria's European Endangered [Species] Programme (EAZA). The stronghold is in Darién Biosphere Reserve, Panama, and adjacent Los Katíos National Park, Colombia. There are important reserves in all range states, but these provide insufficient protection for seasonal wanderers (Juniper and Parr 1998). The Macaw Recovery Network in Costa Rica implements conservation programmes such as species management, habitat protection and restoration, community outreach and behavioural change (S. Nazeri in litt. 2020). In Costa Rica, a proposed moratorium on logging D. panamensis has not yet been implemented (Powell et al. 1995; Snyder et al. 2000). A bi-national campaign in the lowlands of the San Juan River (Nicaragua and Costa Rica) aims to increase awareness of biology, threats and conservation, and strengthen management of natural resources (Chassot et al. 2006). A government-backed conservation strategy is being implemented in Ecuador (E. Horstman in litt. 2005). In 2007, a successful rapid assessment study in search of the last surviving individuals was carried out in the Cordillera Chongón-Colonche, Ecuador (O. Jahn in litt. 2004, 2005). Fundación Jocotoco is reintroducing the subspecies guayaquilensis in coastal Chongón-Colonche (M. Moens in litt. 2020). Habitat restoration utilizing native dry tropical forest species that are known or potential macaw food sources is being carried out in the Cerro Blanco Protective Forest, western Ecuador, by the Pro-Forest Foundation, with >250 hectares so far replanted with 35 native species (E. Horstman in litt. 2012). A biological corridor is being created to link the Cerro Blanco Protective Forest with remaining forest fragments in the Chongon Colonche Protective Forest (E. Horstman in litt. 2012).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Implement population monitoring programmes (Benítez et al. 2002). Monitor rates of habitat loss and degradation. Quantify levels of persecution and capture for trade. Develop captive breeding programmes. Effectively protect reserves throughout the range (Snyder et al. 2000, Benítez et al. 2002; O. Jahn in litt. 2004, 2005). Designate the proposed Maquenque National Park, Costa Rica (Powell et al. 1995). In Ecuador, designate the Awá reserve, Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve, Awacachi corridor, Gran Reserva Chachi, and Canandé Reserve, including the Río Santiago, Cayapas, Ónzole, and Hoja Blanca drainages, as a biosphere reserve (Benítez et al. 2002). Acquire private reserves in selected areas (López-Lanús et al. 1999; Sharpe 1999). Create a biological corridor linking forest remnants in the Cordillera Chongón-Colonche with the Cerro Blanco Protected Forest. Curtail trade through law enforcement and educational campaigns (J. Lyons in litt. 1998; C. J. Sharpe in litt. 1999; Benítez et al. 2002). Sustainably manage the buffer zones of key protected areas and reserves (Benítez et al. 2002). In Ecuador, efficiently guard all known nests during the entire nesting period to avoid the destruction of nesting trees and the collection of nestlings by poachers (O. Jahn in litt. 2004, 2005).


85-90 cm. Very large, green macaw. Red frontal band above huge black bill. Bare facial area with black lines. Flight feathers blue above and olive below. Blue lower back. Orange tail. Facial lines more reddish in older (especially female) birds. Voice Loud squawks and growls, and a creaking aaa call (Ross and Whitney 1995; Jahn et al. 2002; Whitney et al. 2002; Krabbe and Nilsson 2003; Coopmans et al. 2004).


Text account compilers
Hermes, C.

Angehr, G., Benstead, P., Chassot, O., Derhé, M., Fundación ProAves, Harding, M., Horstman, E., Isherwood, I., Jahn, O., Lyons, J., Moens, M., Nazeri, S., Portillo Reyes, H., Salaman, P.G.W., Schmitt, B., Sharpe, C.J., Sharpe, C J, Stuart, T., Symes, A. & Williams, S.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2024) Species factsheet: Ara ambiguus. Downloaded from on 03/03/2024.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2024) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 03/03/2024.