Great Green Macaw Ara ambiguus


Justification of Red List Category
This species qualifies as Endangered because extensive habitat destruction and capture for the cagebird trade are suspected to have caused very rapid and continuing population declines. These threats have had such a significant impact that it is very rare in four out of six range states, and the total population is now suspected to be small.

Population justification
The global population is estimate to number fewer than 2,500 mature individuals, or fewer than 3,700 individuals in total, when juveniles and immatures are included (O. Jahn in litt. 2005, in litt. 2007). There were estimated to be 1,530 individuals in the southern Nicaragua - northern Costa Rica population in 2009 (Monge et al.  2010).

Trend justification
High annual deforestation rates combined with illegal capture for the pet trade and subsistence hunting mean there is little doubt that global populations have been reduced over the past three generations by >50 %.

Distribution and population

Ara ambiguus occurs as two subspecies. The nominate race occurs from Honduras to north-west Colombia, and the race guayaquilensis in 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. R. 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 also found in the north of the Serranía de Baudó and the West Andes, east to the upper Sinú valley (Hilty and Brown 1986, Snyder et al. 2000). In Honduras, it is now rare near the río Plátano (Snyder et al. 2000) and, in Nicaragua, it persists in the Bosawas Reserve and the Indio-Maíz and San Juan Reserve may hold the second largest global subpopulation (C. J. Sharpe in litt. 1999, O. Chassot verbally 2004). Ecuador's population has been estimated at 60-90 individuals in 2002 in two widely separated populations (Benítez 2002), but the population continues to shrink fast (O. Jahn in litt. 2004 and 2005, E. von Horstman in litt. 2005) and a census conducted in the Cordillera Chongon Colonche and Esmeraldas Province in 2010 found only 8 birds (E. Horstman in litt. 2012) and the current population in Ecuador is suspected to be around 30-40 individuals (E. Horstman in litt. 2012). The majority of these are in Esmeraldas (Benítez 2002), and very small numbers remain in the Cordillera de Chongón-Colonche, Guayas (Snyder et al. 2000, Benítez 2002). The southern Nicaragua - northern Costa Rica population held an estimated 1,530 individuals in 2009. Recent estimates suggest that the global population is less than 2,500 mature individuals (or less than 3,700 in total including juveniles and immatures), with the largest subpopulation in Darién, north-west Colombia estimated at less than 1,700 mature individuals (or less than 2,500 in total) (O. Jahn in litt. 2004 and 2005). However, even within that area its distribution is quite local, it being absent from several remote areas (G. R. Angehr in litt. 2005). The species forms non-breeding flocks of 50 or more, with flock attendants coming together from huge areas (O. Chassot verbally 2004), possibly leading to inflated local estimates of abundance (O. Jahn in litt. 2004 and 2005).


It inhabits humid and wet lowland, foothill and (in south-western Ecuador) dry deciduous forest (Benítez 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, local movements may reflect the asynchronous fruiting of Dipteryx panamensis, the principal nesting and feeding tree (Powell et al. 1995, Juniper and Parr 1998). In south-western Ecuador, it breeds in June-November, and nests in cavities of dead Cavanillesia plantanifolia trees (Berg and Horstman 1996, Lopez-Lanus 1999). Orchids made up 71% of the diet of a pair watched in Ecuador, and their feeding range was estimated at 2,000 ha (Lopez-Lanus 1999). In the non-breeding season, it tends to form flocks that disperse over large distances in search of food (O. Jahn in litt. 2004 and 2005, O. Chassot verbally 2004).


In Central America, there is conversion to banana plantations and cattle-ranching, and logging (Stattersfield et al. 1998). Dipteryx panamensis is selectively logged in Costa Rica (Powell et al. 1995). Annual deforestation rates are very high throughout its range (FAO 2001). Deforestation in Panama probably exceeds 30% of its original range (G. R. 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 and 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 have increased the impact of logging, small-scale agriculture, illegal coca plantations, gold mining, and hunting, which is even affecting some key protected areas (Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund 2001, Álvarez 2002, Benítez 2002, Jahn in press a). Large areas 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 1995a, Powell et al. 1995, Sharpe 1999, C. J. Sharpe in litt. 1999, Snyder et al. 2000, Benítez 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). In Costa Rica, a proposed moratorium on logging D. panamensis has not 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. von 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 and 2005). 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, W 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 (Horstman in litt. 2012).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Implement population monitoring programs (Benítez 2002, Jahn in press a). Monitor rates of habitat loss and degradation. Quantify levels of persecution and capture for trade. Effectively protect reserves in Honduras, Nicaragua (Snyder et al. 2000), Ecuador (Benítez 2002, O. Jahn in litt. 2004 and 2005, Jahn in press a) and other countries. Sustainably manage the buffer zones of key protected areas and reserves (Benítez 2002) and develop captive breeding programmes. Curtail trade through law enforcement and educational campaigns (J. Lyons in litt. 1998, C. J. Sharpe in litt. 1999, Benítez 2002). 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 2002, Jahn in press a). 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 and 2005). Acquire private reserves in selected areas (Lopez-Lanus 1999, Sharpe 1999). Create a biological corridor for the species (and others), linking forest remnants in the Cordillera Chongon Colonche with the Cerro Blanco Protected Forest.


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
Benstead, P., Harding, M., Isherwood, I., Jahn, O., Sharpe, C J, Stuart, T., Symes, A. & Derhé, M.

Angehr, G., Horstman, E., Jahn, O., Lyons, J., Salaman, P., Sharpe, C J & Brisendine, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2020) Species factsheet: Ara ambiguus. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 06/04/2020. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2020) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 06/04/2020.