top of page

Lesser Antillean macaw

Ara guadeloupensis

An unknown species of red parrot dubbed the Lesser Antillean macaw (Ara guadeloupensis) was encountered various times throughout the 15th to 18th century in Guadeloupe.

The first written account of this unknown bird was described by Christopher Columbus’s son, Ferdinand. He described seeing “red parrots the size of chickens” on Guadeloupe in 1496. 

Later in the 1650s, a French missionary named Jean Baptiste Du Tertre wrote about a parrot larger than other species by about a third living on Guadeloupe. He wrote that it had “the head, the neck, the belly and the back of the colour of fire; its wings are a mixture of yellow, azure and crimson feathers; while the tail is entirely red and a foot and a half long.”

Dozens of other naturalists, explorers and ornithologists described red parrots in Guadeloupe up until about the 1760s. There was no physical evidence the species ever existed until an unfossilized leg bone was found in Guadeloupe in 2001, and later a phalanx in 2014. Both bones were consistent with the size and anatomy of Lesser Antillean macaws. Later in 2015, one of the discoverers of the phalanx, Arnaud Lenoble uncovered writings from the early to mid-1600s by missionary Raymond Breton. Breton claimed that both colonists and the Indigenous Taino distinguished the Lesser Antillean macaw from the scarlet macaw, a South American species some argued were misidentified as Lesser Antillean macaws. 

Dutch painter Roelant Savery’s famous 1626 painting “Dodo” depicts what appears to be a Lesser Antillean macaw to the bottom left. It is considered one of the most detailed depictions of a Lesser Antillean macaw.

Jean-Baptiste Labat (left), Roelant Savery (centre), François Martinet's (right)
bottom of page