Military Macaw Ara militaris


Justification of Red List Category
This species is listed as Vulnerable because levels of habitat loss and capture for the cagebird trade indicate that there is a continuing rapid population decline. Its future ought to be secured by the large number of national parks in which it occurs, but many of these currently provide ineffective protection and much of the species's range, at least in Mexico, falls outside the protected area network.

Population justification
The population size was preliminarily estimated to fall into the band 10,000-19,999 individuals, equating to 6,667-13,333 mature individuals. However more recent estimates suggest the population is now smaller than previously thought. With one estimate of 1,000-2,000 breeding pairs across the species's range (C. Bonilla in litt. 2016) and another of a total of 5,000-10,000 individuals (G. Marateo, P. Grilli, M. Juarez and I. Berkunsky in litt. 2016). The population estimate is therefore estimated at 3,000-10,000 individuals, equating to 2,000-6,666 mature individuals.

Trend justification
This species is thought to be declining due to continued habitat loss and capture for domestic trade. A study which modelled the species's distribution in Mexico found that the potential area of distribution had decreased by 32% (Rivera-Ortiz et al. 2013).

Distribution and population

This species occupies a massive but fragmented range from Mexico to Argentina. In Mexico, it occurs from central Sonora to Guerrero (Jiménez-Arcos et al. 2012) on the Pacific slope, east Nuevo León and Tamaulipas to San Luis Potosí on the Atlantic slope (Howell and Webb 1995a), and Durango, Nayarit, Morelos, Puebla, Oaxaca and Queretaro in the interior (C. Bonilla in litt. 2012, 2016, A. Siguenza and L. Vasquez Reyes in litt. 2016). In Colombia, it is known from the Guajira Peninsula and Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta through the Sierras de Perijá and de San Lucas, south along the East Andes, with local populations on the Pacific slope in Chocó, the Cauca valley, the head of the Magdalena valley and in the Sierra de la Macarena (Hilty and Brown 1986, Snyder et al. 2000). A new population was recently reported from two localities in the Catatumbo-Barí National Park on the Colombian-Venezuelan border (J. E. Avendaño in litt. 2011). It is very local in north Venezuela (Rojas-Suárez et al. 2004), and occurs disjunctly in the east Andes of Ecuador, Peru (also in the río Chinchipe drainage [A. Begazo in litt. 1999]), Bolivia (Berg and Hennessey 2019) and north-west Argentina. It has been extirpated from many areas, especially in Mexico (practically extirpated from most of Veracruz and Hidalgo on the Atlantic side, and Chiapas, Oaxaca, as well as coastal regions of Guerrero and Michoacan on the Pacific slope (Howell and Webb 1995, K. Renton in litt. 2007), and is very local elsewhere. Occasional records are reported in Estado de México and north-western Morelos (A. Siguenza and L. Vasquez Reyes in litt. 2016). In Tamaulipas the population is estimated at between 200 and 350 individuals with the main threat to these populations being trapping at feeding sites (E. R. Rodríguez-Ruíz and A. Banda in litt. 2016). In Argentina the only records since 1991 are from Salta Province, with up to five birds in 2005-2007 at Finca Itaguazuti (Chebez 1994, M. Juárez in litt. 2007), 50 in the Sierra de Tartagal (Navarro et al. 2008) and 41-52 in Quebrada El Limón, Serranías de Tartagal (Juárez et al. 2011, 2012). Similarly, an assessment of 21 known localities in the southern Yungas of Bolivia found a total of 37 individuals at eight of these (L. Rivera in litt. 2012). Populations in Mexico, Venezuela and Colombia face continuing threats, and further extirpations are expected. Much of the species's habitat in Mexico has been subject to deforestation with patches of remaining suitable forest isolated by highly disturbed areas (Dirzo et al. 2011, A. Siguenza and L. Vasquez Reyes in litt. 2016).


In South America it inhabits humid lowland forest and adjacent cleared areas, wooded foothills and canyons. In Mexico, it is found in arid and semi-arid woodland, and pine-oak, humid lowland and riparian forest, moving seasonally to dense thorn-forest (Juniper and Parr 1998, Renton 2004), although in Puno, Peru it was found to be more abundant in a mosaic of shade coffee plantations and degraded remnant forest patches than in neighbouring pristine Yungas forest (S. K. Herzog in litt. 2007). In Mexico it has also been reported to use agricultural fields and orchards (E. R. Rodríguez-Ruíz and A. Banda in litt. 2016). It occurs from sea-level to 3,600 m (E. R. Rodríguez-Ruíz and A. Banda in litt. 2016), but the core range is 500-1,500 m (Juniper and Parr 1998). Nests and large communal roosts are sited on cliff-faces or in large trees (Howell and Webb 1995a, Juniper and Parr 1998, Cruz-Nieto et al. 2006). In Jalisco and Nayarit on the Pacific coast of Mexico, the species nests in tree cavities located high above the ground in tall emergent trees of Enterolobium cyclocarpum (de la Parra-Martínez et al. 2015). Surveys of cavity availability found a low density of cavities with characteristics suitable for nesting by Military Macaws, and these were concentrated in semi-deciduous forest (de la Parra-Martínez et al. 2015). In Mexico the breeding season begins in January when pairs form, with nesting taking place in May, June and July (E. R. Rodríguez-Ruíz and A. Banda in litt. 2016).


Habitat loss and especially domestic trade are the chief threats, even within reserves (Snyder et al. 2000). In 1991-1995, 96 wild-caught specimens were found in international trade, with Bolivia and Mexico possibly the most significant exporters (Chebez 1994, D. Brightsmith in litt. 2007). In Mexico, it is still one of the most sought-after species in the illegal cagebird trade; in 1995-2005, it was the fifth most seized Mexican Psittacine species by the country's Environmental Enforcement Agency, becoming the fourth most seized Psittacine species in 2007-2010 (J. C. Cantú in litt. 2010). In many areas it nests in relatively inaccessible cavities on cliff walls, which provides some protection against the pressures of nest poaching (E. R. Rodríguez-Ruíz and A. Banda in litt. 2016). However, nest poaching is a severe threat in Jalisco and Nayarit where the species nests in tree cavities (C. Bonilla in litt. 2007, K. Renton in litt. 2007). Furthermore, the dependence on nest-cavities in tall emergent trees means there is limited availability of suitable nest sites for Military Macaws (de la Parra-Martínez et al. 2015), and these are vulnerable to forestry practices that extract large valuable-wood trees (K. Renton in litt. 2020). In Jalisco, Mexico, macaws were not found in deforested areas, even where abundant Hura polyandra (an important food source) were left as shade for cattle (Renton 2004). GARP analysis estimates that the species has suffered 23% habitat loss within its range in Mexico (Ríos Muñoz 2002) and currently, forest loss throughout the species's full range is estimated at ~13% per three generations (Tracewski et al. 2016). As the species feeds on agricultural land (crops include corn, walnuts and olives) it may also be threatened by persecution (E. R. Rodríguez-Ruíz and A. Banda in litt. 2016). Gold mining operations in Mexico, particularly in the Balsas Region, also pose a threat owing to the associated deforestation and pollution (A. Siguenza and L. Vasquez Reyes in litt. 2016). In Jaumave, Tamaulipas, Mexican gray squirrels (Sciurus aureogaster) may compete for food with the species (E R. Rodríguez-Ruíz and A. Banda in litt. 2016). One sub-population in the Cauca valley, Colombia, numbering fewer than 50 mature individuals, may shortly be lost as a dam is expected to flood the sole nesting cliff (Fundación ProAves 2011). 

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix I and II, and legally protected in Venezuela, Peru and Salta province, Argentina (L. Rivera in litt. 2012). The species is listed as Endangered on the US Endangered Species Act (Federal Register 2015) meaning that sale across state lines will not be permitted and transport across state lines will be restricted (D. Brightsmith in litt. 2016). A trade ban in Mexico was decreed in October 2008 (J. C. Cantú in litt. 2010). There are reasonably healthy populations in El Cielo and Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserves, Mexico (J. Lyons in litt. 1998, K. Renton in litt. 2007), Madidi and Amboró National Parks, Pilon Lajas Biosphere Reserve and Apolobamba National Integrated Management Area, Bolivia ( Juniper and Parr 1998, B. Hennessey in litt. 1999, D. Ricalde in litt. 1999, S. K. Herzog in litt. 2007), and Manu Biosphere Reserve and Bahuaja Sonene National Park in Peru (S. K. Herzog in litt. 2007); a small but stable remnant population in Tehuacan-Cuicatlan Biosphere Reserve, Oaxaca, Mexico (Rivera-Ortiz et al. 2008), with populations in at least some of the other protected areas in its potential range (IUCN 1992, Desenne and Strahl 1994, Chebez et al. 1998, Begazo in litt. 1999, B. Hennessey in litt. 1999, D. Ricalde in litt. 1999, Snyder et al. 2000). An education programme is currently underway in the state of Tamaulipas, Mexico (D. Brightsmith in litt. 2016). The subspecies mexicana is part of the European Endangered [Species] Programme of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria ( The species is included on the 'Watch List' of the State of North America's Birds as a species of high conservation concern (NABCI 2016).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Assess its population status and ecological requirements. Monitor the largest known populations. Control capture and trade of wild birds, beginning in reserves (Desenne and Strahl 1994, Snyder et al. 2000). Improve management and awareness initiatives in and around national parks and in the wider landscape. Develop and extend captive breeding programmes. Involve local communities in conservation efforts including monitoring, reforestation and education programmes (E. R. Rodríguez-Ruíz and A. Banda in litt. 2016) and promote ecotourism (A. Siguenza and L. Vasquez Reyes in litt. 2016). The area of Salazares, Nayarit has been identified as an important site for the species and should be included in conservation plans (Rivera-Ortíz et al. 2016). Prevent logging of all large and decaying trees in tropical coastal forest near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico where the species nests in trees (Bonilla Ruz et al. 2014). In Mexico only 5% of the species's potential distribution is covered by national protected areas (Rivera-Ortiz et al. 2013) and the largest populations are not found within protected areas therefore action is needed to protect important habitats outside the protected area network (C. Bonilla in litt. 2016). Rivera-Ortiz et al. (2013) suggest that at least 30% of forests within the species's potential distribution in Mexico should be protected to ensure nesting and feeding areas are protected.


70 cm. Large, green macaw. Overall dark lime-green. Red forehead and bare white facial area with black lines. Flight feathers blue above and yellowish-olive below. Blue lower back. Tail blue and red. All-black bill. Similar spp. Almost identical, but probably allopatric, Great Green Macaw Ara ambigua has greener hindneck and pale-tipped maxilla. Voice Noisy and harsh cr-a-a-a-k and various shrieking cries.


Text account compilers
Everest, J.

Ashpole, J, Avendaño, J., Banda Valdez, A., Begazo, A., Benstead, P., Berkunsky, I., Bonilla, C., Brightsmith, D., Cantú, J., Gilardi, J., Grilli, P., Hennessey, A.B., Herzog, S.K., Isherwood, I., Juárez, M., Lyons, J., Marateo, G., Pagano, L., Politi, N., Renton, K., Ricalde, D.G., Rivera, L., Rodriguez Ruiz, E.R., Rojas Llanos, R., Sharpe, C.J., Sharpe, C J, Siguenza, A., Stuart, T., Symes, A., Taylor, J. & Vazquez Reyes, L.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Ara militaris. Downloaded from on 22/01/2022. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2022) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 22/01/2022.