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Great Green Macaw, Grand Military MacawFamily: PsittacidaeBuffon's Macaw - "Lulu"Ara ambiguaPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy Cheryl Galloway
The Buffon's Macaw has been quite a rarity... and as such it commands a high price!
The Buffon's Macaw Ara ambiguus is also known as the Great Green Macaw or the Grand Military Macaw. These large Macaws are rare in the wild, and are listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as endangered. They are rare in captivity too, but they have proven to be good breeders. Today with successful breeding, the Buffon's Macaw is not only becoming more available, but a few captive bred birds have also been re-introduced into the wild in some areas of its native habitat.
The name Great Green Macaw is truly descriptive. They are not only the largest parrot in their region, but the Buffon's overall coloration is green, becoming blue around the lower back and rump as well as the undertail coverts (the feathers from the belly leading into the tail). It has a strong scarlet red forehead and the tail is a subdued red-brown tipped in blue. This is one of the more hefty of the large Macaws, reaching 33 to 36" (85 - 90 cm) in length and weighing up to 2.9 pounds (1.3 kg).
The Buffon's Macaw is very similar in appearance to its close cousin, the Military Macaw Ara militaris. In fact the Buffon's is often mistaken for this more commonly available Macaw parrot. An earlier contribution to The confusion between these two birds even goes back to the early 19th century when the Military Macaw was also referred to as the "Great Green Macaw". However, the Buffon's Macaw does differ somewhat from its close cousin. It is noticeably larger and it has a lighter green coloration overall, with a more yellowish green cast to its feathers.
The Buffon's Macaw is very social and makes a wonderful pet bird. It vies for a top position as one of the most docile and affectionate of the pet Macaws. Even breeding pairs have been known to be friendly. Like all Macaws they are also quite intelligent, inquisitive and playful. They are considered to be fair talkers and are excellent at learning tricks. They make a great aviary bird too, as they enjoy the company of a flock. In the wild they are seldom seen alone.
For more information about Macaw parrots, see:
Macaw Care Guide: All about Macaws
Ara ambiguus ambiguus (Bechstein, 1811)
Ara ambiguus guayaquilensis (Chapman, 1925)
The two subspecies of the Buffon's Macaw are believed to be allopatric subspecies. This means that the two are isolated from one another geographically. The idea of allopatric divergence is very interesting. When individuals of a single species becomes separated like this, they can diverge from their original form through different mutations. It is also possible for them to undergo genetic drift. Over a long period of time, the separated species may evolve distinctively different characteristics. Sometimes the species will diverge to the point where they can no longer even interbreed.
Distribution The Buffon's Macaw Ara ambiguus was first described by Bechstein in 1811. It is also known as the Great Green Macaw or Grand Military Macaw. Ara ambiguus guayaquilensis was described over 100 years later by Chapman in 1925. They are found in Central America from southeastern Honduras to western Columbia, and in western Ecuador. However, the two subspecies are found in distinctly separate regions:
- Ara ambiguus ambiguus
This is the nominate species. It is found in the northern regions, in the Honduras through Columbia.
Common names include:
Buffon's Macaw, Great Green Macaw, and Grand Military Macaw
- Ara ambiguus guayaquilensis
This species is found in the southern regions, Ecuador and possibly southwestern Columbia.
Common names include:
Guayas Great Green Macaw, Guayaquil Macaw, and Ecuadorian Buffon's Macaw
Buffon's Macaws are quite reserved in nature, and have disappeared completely from areas of human habitation. They live high up in the treetops of remote forests in tropical and subtropical zones Their green coloration blends in with the surroundings and affords them even great secrecy. It is only their loud squawks and a steady dropping of debris that will give their location away. They feed on seeds, nuts, fruits, berries, and maybe some vegetation found in the treetops.
Buffon's are rarely lone birds. Rather they are seen in groups of up to a dozen or more birds with discernable pairs. Occasionally they are seen in pairs or a family group of three. Though they reside mainly in the trees, they have been seen flying across semi-open areas, but not settling.
The region inhabited by the Buffon's Macaw is actually quite small, and diminishing. This beautiful Macaw has been declining in its native habitat and is severely threatened.
DescriptionThe Buffon's Macaw is very similar in appearance to the Military Macaw. In the early 19th century Military Macaw was also referred to as the "Great Green Macaw. The primary differences is that the Buffon's Macaw is a larger bird and its general color is a lighter, more yellowish green. The two subspecies are also very similar, primarily distinguished by place of origin and very slight size and color differences.
Overall, the Buffon's Macaw is green with pale blue on the lower back, over the rump, and onto the upper part of the tail. The rest of the tail is a pale brownish red, tipped with blue. The forehead, along with the feathered lines on the lore, is red. The bare facial area is white with a pink cast to it and black feathered lines. The legs are gray. The beak is also gray, though paler towards the tip, and the eye is a dull yellow.
The Buffon's Macaw is a full sized Macaw. It reaches about 33 to 36" (85 - 90 cm) in length and weighs up to 2.9 pounds (1.3 kg). A younger bird will be paler overall, especially on the undersides and its central tail feathers are tipped with a dull yellow. They also have a brown eye.
Care and FeedingIn the wild they eat a variety of seeds, nuts, fruits, berries, and plants. There are name brand commercially prepared seed or pellet mixes for the Macaw. They can also eat anything nutritious that you eat and these foods should be offered. Most parrots enjoy eating with their family. They eat protein in the wild and they do like chicken. Avocado and chocolate are toxic to parrots.
Macaws are used to a humid climate and without bathing their feathers will dry out and become itchy causing them to chew on them. You can spray them down with room temperature tap water or a commercial bird bath. Many owners just take their Macaw into the shower with them. They make shower perches for Macaws.
See Macaw Care and Feeding for more information.
HousingLarge Macaws require a roomy cage, at least 2 1/2 by 3 feet. Because they can be quite vocal, be sure the cage is in a room where the amount of noise the neighbors hear is a minimal as possible. A large sturdy perch needs to be mounted in the cage. Fresh fruit tree branches work great because they can chew on them as well, but then they will have to be replaced occasionally. Food and water dishes, along with a treat dish work best mounted above the perch at the side of the cage. A variety of toys for playing and chewing should also be provided. As alternatives to a cage, they can be kept in an outdoor aviary where the weather permits, and some people like to provide their bird with its own "bird room".
A large Macaw needs 2 - 3 hours a day outside their cage. The Macaw's cage is their territory and a play pen top is great, but it is still their territory. It is better to interact with a Macaw on top of a sturdy perch away from the cage. A separate, free-standing playpen works great for this. Many birds can spend most of their time on a playpen or parrot perch. .
See Macaw Housing or more information.
Maintenance The basic cage care includes daily cleaning of the water and food dishes. Weekly you should wash all the perches and dirty toys, and the floor should be washed about every other week. A total hosing down and disinfecting of an aviary should be done yearly, replacing anything that needs to be freshened, such as old dishes, toys and perches.
Social BehaviorsIn the wild the Buffon's Macaws are usually seen in pairs, family groups of three, or small groups of up to a dozen or so individuals. They are rarely seen alone. They are a social bird and enjoy the company of their flock or of a mate as well.
The Buffon's Macaws are intelligent, lovable, and friendly. Yet they are a typical Macaw and can be cranky at times and may prefer only one person or only one gender. Like all Macaws, they can be quite loud, being especially loud when anticipating interaction with you. They will also mirror your moods, so if you are agitated, they can become agitated. If you are happy and loving, well so is your pet. To have a well-rounded bird that enjoys more than one person, make sure it is well socialized with lots of folks..
See Macaws Social Behaviors for information on developing a well rounded friendly Macaw.
Handling/Training The Buffon's Macaw adapts quickly. Once it becomes accustomed to a new environment and its keeper it is then ready to start bird training. Generally though, you should give a new arrival a few days to get use to you, your voice and its cage before trying to handle it. A hand fed baby will not need much taming and can often be handled right away, as it is use to human attention.
With all parrots, taming and training takes trust and patience. Macaws are very intelligent making them easy to tame. They are also very adept at learning and quick to train. They excel best at learning tricks and small tasks. They are not as inclined to talk and mimic as some of the other parrots, notably the Amazon Parrots, but they can learn a few words or phrases.
For information about handling and training your Macaw see Macaw Training
ActivitiesFor the physical well being and psychological health of a Macaw Parrot, they must have plenty of opportunity to exercise and play. These are lovable pets and activities include interactive time with its keeper. Everything from petting, cuddling, and preening is appreciated, as well as performing and learning new tricks. But these are also very large, rambunctious pets that need a good sized space to play and climb around. Both climbing around inside a large cage, and providing a outside playpen offers them interest and variety.
Macaws are avid chewers, munching intently on anything they can get a hold of. When they are on a playpen, make sure they can't reach trim or any household items you don't want destroyed. Provide lots of toys and activities in the form of large link chains, bird ladders, parrot swings, ropes, and wood toys for gnawing and chewing. Rotate in new bird toys on a regular basis.
Providing regular interaction and lots of playtime. Having plenty of space and a large selection of toys and activities will help deter distress in your pet Macaw. It will also reduce the chance of your parrot developing undesirable behaviors like screeching, biting, and feather picking.
Sexing - Sexual DifferencesNo visible differences. There is no for certain way to distinguish a male Buffon's Macaw from a female. In order to know whether you have a male or female, the bird must be sexed. DNA / Feather or surgical sexing is recommended.
Breeding/Reproduction Though on a small scale, the Buffon's Macaw is successfully being bred in captivity in the United States. The usual clutch consists of two to four eggs which incubate for about 26 days. The babies will leave the nest after about 84 days, but will stay with their parents for up to a year. Feed the parents additional high-fat seeds, like sunflower seed, during the breeding season. Also feed the parents plenty of green stuffs, corn-on-the-cob, carrots, protein, and fruit laced with food supplement while they are rearing the youngsters.
See Macaw Breeding for more information.
This Buffon's Macaw has also been crossed with other large macaw species to develop a number of hybrid Macaws. These include first generation (F1) hybrids like the Bluffon's Macaw, Buffwing Macaw, Emerald Macaw, Miliffon's Macaw, and Verde Macaw. We have no reports of second generation (F2) and later generations hybirds, and it has not been hybridized with Mini Macaws.
Potential Problems It is definitely true that a Macaw parrot can make noise, but it is not often, and not without some provocation. Usually, if they make a loud squawking noise if they perceive something to be wrong or different. Maybe a car they don't recognize is coming to the home or the dog is loose. They are also known to make a large noise for about 10 minutes as the sun is setting. This is an alert to their flock to settle in for the evening.
A pet Macaw when well cared for will seldom become ill. Yet they can contract some diseases, and there some also things in the environmental that can cause illness. Behavior problems can also occur, resulting in feather plucking, biting, and loud screeching. Though it is often difficult to determine illness, some visible signs of illness to be aware of are:
- Ruffled plumage
- Drooping wings
- Sagging body
- Extreme mood changes
- Having no appetite
- Bulges in feathering
- Partially closed or watery eyes
- Swelling of the eyelids
- Difficulty breathing
- Excessive saliva
- Dirty vent
- Any change in the feces not apparently diet related
Some of the more common illnesses are:
- Proventricular Dilation disease (Macaw wasting disease)
- Psittacosis (chlamydiosis or parrot fever)
- Bacterial, viral, or fungal infections
- Feather picking - results of boredom, poor diet, sexual frustration, and lack of bathing
- Chewing flight and tail feathers by juveniles
- Beak malformations in chicks
- Kidney disease (gout)
- Toxicity - heavy metal poisoning
- Lipomas in older birds
If you notice any of these bird illnesses in your Buffon's Macaw immediately provide a warm, draft free, secure environment kept at about 86°F (30°C). Place food and water close to the perch where it is easily accessible. An ailing parrot should be taken to an avian veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment.
Behavior problems in a pet Macaw usually stem from something that is missing in the bird's environment. Some of the most common are lack of trust, becoming bored, or lack of interaction with people or other birds. When these things are missing that can lead to problems resulting in undesirable behavior. Try to develop a bond of trust and spend time with your bird to help avoid these problems. We have also had good success with Chet Womach's Parrot Training Course. He offers free 3-day introductory course so you can try it out before you buy anything.
Availability: Buffon's Macaws, though still rather rare, are becoming more available due to successful captive breeding. Do to their scarcity they are among the most expensive of the Macaws. Hopefully as they become more available through increased breeding, they will also become less expensive.
- Animal-World References: Pet Birds - Exotic Birds
- Joseph M. Forshaw, Parrots of the World, Hancock House Pub Ltd. 2000
- J. Abramson, B.L. Speer, J.B. Thompson, The Large Macaws: Their Care, Breeding, and Conservation, Raintree Publications, 1996
- Roger G. Sweeney, Macaws a Complete Owners Manual, Barron's, 1992
- David Alderton, Parrots, Salamander Books, 1999
- Dr. David Alderton, The Atlas of Parrots of the World, T.F.H. Publications, Inc. 1991
- David Alderton,, A Bird Keeper's Guide to Parrots and Macaws, Salamander Books, 1989
- Don Harper, Practical Encyclopedia of pet Birds, Harmony, 1986