The feathers of scarlet macaws gain their red coloration via five lipochromes produced only in parrots.

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"In this first examination of the variety of colourful pigments present in parrot feathers, we studied 44 parrot species from 27 genera and found that they all use the same set of five lipochromes to colour their feathers red…Red parrot feathers also differ in colour intensity, from the light-pink hue of several cockatoos to the deep red of red lories (Eos bornea)…The only reports of these pigments in nature are from parrot feathers…There are several other lines of evidence that point to a non-dietary origin of these pigments, including (i) the absence of these pigments from diet samples of certain captive parrots (K.J.M., personal observation) and (ii) the ability of parrots to maintain striking plumage colouration in captivity despite tremendous variation in diet (which is not the case for diet-derived carotenoid colouration; reviewed in Stradi et al. 2001). Stradi et al. (2001) supposed that parrots derive these acyclic polyenal lipochromes either by the addition of acetate units to acetyl CoA or by fatty-acid desaturation. What remains unclear is why parrots are the only group of organisms capable of manufacturing/harbouring these colourants." (McGraw and Nogare 2005:41-42)

Journal article
Distribution of unique red feather pigments in parrotsBiology LettersFebruary 15, 2005
Kevin J. McGraw, Mary C. Nogare

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