Macaws make great pet birds, easily adapt to their environment and then are ready to play!
Macaws are quite distinguished looking, They are easy to recognize with their large heads, strong curved beak, and an elegant long tail. They are also very smart and inquisitive birds, and they are also lively and playful. Being highly intelligent and very social, they need a lot of attention and toys to keep them busy. Pet Macaws adapt well to captivity, adjusting easily to their cage or aviary and their new home. A young macaw will tame quickly and bond to its keepers.
The feather coloring of the macaws is vibrant and beautiful. The most familiar types of macaws are large birds though a there are also a few species, known as mini macaws, that are medium sized. No matter what their size, they are all captivating birds.
The large macaws tend to have the most exotic feather coloring. Mini macaws are primarily a bright green with a few color accents on their shoulders or tails. A number of macaws have been cross bred, producing quite a variety of hybrid macaws. The hybrid macaws have brilliant variations on the normal coloration of their parentage.
Macaws make excellent pets but are very loud. They are not the greatest talkers, but they love socialization. Social interaction is the key, a pet macaw may soon begin to mimic the sounds of their keeper’s voice as well as many other sounds in its environment. Macaws are highly intelligent as well as both active and interactive, making them very outgoing and quick to pick up on tricks. A joyful lifetime companion for the right keepers!
Facts About Macaws
Macaws come from South and Central America and have been widely kept as pets since the beginning of the 20th century. In the United States they have been kept by the Pueblo Indians since 1100 A.D. The Pueblos especially prized the Scarlet Macaw. They are primarily tree top dwellers, living in the canopies of tropical forests.
There are 17 living species (and several subspecies) of macaws along with quite a few macaw hybrids. For a number of years the Macaw family were divided into just four genera, but today they are broken into six. These genera are Ara, Diopsittaca, Anodorhynchus, Cyanopsitta, Orthopsittaca, and Primolius.
All macaws have the same physical characteristics. They have a slender body, long wings, and a long tapered tail. All types of macaws have an oversized head and beak. The beak is adapted to eating large nuts in the wild, such as the various palm nuts.
The largest Macaw, and also the largest of all parrots, is the impressive Hyacinth Macaw at 36″ in length with a wingspan of up to 42″, and weighing up to 1550 grams. The smallest of the macaws is the Hahn’s Macaw, reaching not quite 12″ (30 cm) in length.
- Types of Macaws
The natural Macaw species are commonly broken into two groups, the Large Macaws and the Mini Macaws. Mini Macaws are those that only reach up to about 20 inches (50 cm) in total length. There are 8 living species (Including subspecies) of Mini Macaws and 11 living species (plus several subspecies) of Large Macaws. Large macaws are brilliantly colored while the smaller macaws tend to be predominantly green.
Brilliant variations of the normal colors is achieved through hybridization or cross-breeding rather than the mutation of a species. Hybrid Macaws have been produced In captivity, and this was often the result of accident where two species of macaw were kept in the same environment. They would become close companions, bond and then produced offspring. Due to the current interest and popularity of these birds, hybridization for the pet trade has resulted.
Hybrid macaws are often very beautiful birds with distinct coloration. Some varieties of hybrid macaw are now second or third generation birds, or even more. However, hybrid macaws are still macaws. They will require the same level of care and dedication from their keepers as the pure macaw species. The coloration of these birds can often be attributed to one parent or the other, but their temperament and behavior are uncertain. For this reason, you will want to learn all you can about each of the parent’s characteristic. Make sure you are comfortable with keeping and handling all of the parent types before obtaining a baby.
See all types of Macaws in the Macaw Family
- Macaw Lifespan
How long do macaws live? This is an important question that macaw enthusiasts ask. Macaws are often mistakenly thought to live up to 75 years or more, but this is incorrect. The actual lifespan of a Large Macaw and Hybrid Macaws is between 35 – 60 years. The life span of the Mini Macaw is shorter, on average they will live 20 – 25 years. Macaws are not as long lived as the cockatoos. A 40 year old macaw will start showing the signs of aging and a 50 year old macaw is a very old bird!
In the wild macaws form a strong bond with another bird and the pair will join small flocks. They also tend to only vocalize within flock situations. In captivity most pet macaws are more likely to interact with their owners through physical contact, and often use vocal mimicry for attention.
Macaws make excellent pets. They have very nice temperaments and are very playful. A hand reared macaw is usually gentle and easily handled. There are a few things to be aware of (and to do) in order to have a wonderful and affectionate pet macaw:
- Socializing A Macaw
A well socialized macaw is a pet that will be enjoyed in lots of situations and by many people for years. A young macaw should be socialized with as many people as possible. They also should be exposed to lots of situations such as new cages, visits to a veterinarian, handling by friends, and having their wings and nails clipped.
Socializing a macaw and providing it lots of experiences are the keys to a great pet. Doing these things will develop a well rounded bird that doesn’t become frightened of new things. It will also prevent too strong a bond with only one person developing.
- Macaws and Children
Macaws and children can mix very successfully if the child learns how to interact with the parrot. Children and macaws should be supervised.
- Macaws and Pets
Macaws and other pets can also get used to each other and learn to accept each other. Again, however, be very careful to monitor all groupings of animals. A macaw can be very dangerous to small pets such as hamsters, guinea pigs, mice, and even small birds. Close friendships are just as possible as deadly enemy behaviors. You won’t know until the relationship unfolds over time
Macaws are excellent for taming, and relatively easy to train. They are very intelligent, and though fair to poor talkers, they can be taught many tricks. This ability to learn and perform tricks makes them a favorite bird for use in shows all over the world.
Taming and training your parrot depends first on trust, so go slowly and be consistent. Remember that taming and training a bird takes patience, never ‘punish’ your parrot! This only serves to destroy the trust you’ve spent so much time building.
- Taming Basics
Generally, as with any parrot, you should give a new arrival a few days to get used to you, your voice and it’s cage before trying to handle it. A handfed baby will not need much taming and can often be handled right away, as it is use to human attention.
Caution: A word of caution in handling these birds, a handfed macaw and even captive-raised macaws have no natural fear of humans. A bite from a macaw can be extremely painful and the large birds can easily remove a finger or two.
Restraining a macaw: Restraining a macaw should only be done when it is necessary for treatment or to clip wings and feathers. If the bird is not tame and you need to handle it, it is best to initially use gloves.
It is easiest to restrain a macaw by covering it with a towel or net. Place a hand around the back of the head with the thumb and forefinger on each side of the lower beak. Use the other hand to support the lower body by holding the legs and wings together.
- Initial Macaw Training
Taming proceeds in steps. Your first goal is to get the parrot to accept a treat from you. This will lead to it allowing you to gently scratching its chest.
Next is hand taming, where your macaw will climb on your hand and allow you to carry it around. You can accomplish this by offering it treats from outside the cage until it is comfortable with your hand. As your macaw becomes comfortable with taking treats from your hand, you then open the cage door and repeat the same process but now you are reaching into it’s cage with the treat. Once you’ve earned it’s trust, your macaw will begin climbing on your hand and allowing you to pet him.
Depending on the tameness of the bird, these two steps can be instantaneous as in a handfed baby or take several weeks or longer for an untamed bird.
- Advanced Training
Once your Macaw has gotten over its shyness, then you can work on speech and trick training. Although a macaw is not as good a talker as the African Grey or even the Amazon Parrots, they often will respond because of their desire for attention and affection. Repetition and frequency are the keys here. They can be trained to do tricks from riding bikes to doing balancing acts.
- Macaw behaviors – Importance of Adolescence Training
As macaws grow into and through adolescence they become more boisterous, mischievous, and difficult to handle. They must be handled with confidence during this time to keep their respect. Never allow bad behavior to develop. Otherwise they can become untrustworthy as a pet. This is often non-reversible and they will then need to be reserved for breeding rather than as a pet.
For an extensive parrot training system that potentially turns your bird into a fun, loving companion as well as learning lots of cool trickls, try Chet Womach’s Parrot Training Course.
Pet Macaw Activities
Exercise and play are important activities for the physical well being and psychological health of your parrot. These activities help deter distress and prevent the problems of screeching and feather picking.
Although they are quite affectionate and cuddly, macaws are also very boisterous and need a large area to exercise. Outdoors is ideal as most indoor spaces are too small. Great climbers, they will explore all over their enclosure, sometimes hanging by their toes from the top.
Macaws are vigorous chewers and will chew on anything within reach. They can be quite destructive to household items and woodwork, so if you keep them on a playpen make sure nothing valuable is within reach. Provide lots of fresh non-toxic tree branches for them to chew up. Also make sure to give your macaw lots of toys and activities in the form of large link chains, bird ladders, parrot swings, ropes, wood toys for gnawing and chewing, and rotate new bird toys on a regular basis.
Macaws are a very high-energy bird and for good health they will need plenty of good foods rich in oils and calories. In the wild the larger Macaws eat a variety of palm nuts while the smaller Macaws eat seeds, nuts and fruit. Each macaw, depending on its size, will eat about 1/2 – 3/4 cup of parrot mix and about 1/2 – 3/4 cup of fruit and vegetables.
by Roger G. Sweeney
- Bird Food
Foods available for Macaws include formulated diets, either pelleted or extruded, seed only diets, and parrot mixes which offer a mixture of both. There are pros and cons to feeding only a formulated diet as well as feeding only a seed diet.
- Formulated Diet
A formulated diet provides a good nutritional base so does not require the addition of vitamins, however it does not contain the phytonutrients (antioxidant pigments) that are found in vegetables, fruits, grains, and seeds. Phytonutrients are believed to boost the immune system, help a body to heal itself, and to prevent some diseases.
Also, parrots can become bored with it due to the lack of variety.
- Seed Diet
A seed-only diet offers much more variety but requires additional vitamin and calcium supplements. Macaws need not only nutritional requirements met but also variety for psychological enrichment.
- Formulated Diet
- Fruits and vegetables
Supplemental foods include all types of fruits such as apples, pears, plums, cherries, grapes, oranges, bananas, mangos, papayas, and even berries such as strawberries and blueberries. Many vegetables including carrots, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, dark green leafy veggies, many garden vegetables, and even dandelions and chickweed are good. Do not feed avocado as it may be toxic to birds!
- TreatsOffer nuts for treats, such as macadamias, walnuts, pecans, almonds, and filberts.
- Additional proteins can be offered such as sprouted legumes and cooked chicken or meat.
Grit is not considered essential as macaws will shell their seed before eating it.
- Fruits and vegetables
Give your macaw fresh drinking water every day.
- Bird Baths
The personal hygiene of your Macaw includes a regular bath or shower for good plumage and skin condition. One way to accomplish this is with either a hand held shower sprayer or a hose with a fine spray head and lukewarm water.
- Bird Grooming
- WingsThe wings should be kept trim if you want to discourage flight and to prevent the loss of your pet through an open window or door. Clip most of the primaries (10 feathers closest to the wing tip) and only enough so the bird can glide to the floor.
- BeakThe beak needs to be trimmed if it becomes overgrown or deformed. There are many mineral blocks, lava blocks, and other beak grooming items available at your pet store to help your bird keep its beak in shape.
- NailsA variety of concrete-type perches are also available to help the keep nails trim, but they should be trimmed if they become overgrown
Complete selection of Bird Supplies, get Macaw food, bird cages, bird toys, and everything you need for your pet,
- Bird Cages
A Macaw cage must accommodate a very large parrot. Provide the largest birdcage possible. A macaw must be able to fully extend its wings without touching the sides of the cage. The largest macaw, the Hyacinth Macaw, has a wing span of 3 – 3 1/2 feet. Macaws must also be able to move freely between two perches or muscular dystrophy can occur which will render it unable to fly.
Another very important consideration is that macaw cages be very durable. These birds are very strong chewers. Macaws are also very good at opening cage doors, so be sure the cage has locks or escape-proof latches.
- Bird Perch
Provide perches that are fresh fruit tree branches, they are great as your bird will love to chew on them, but of course, they will have to be replaced regularly. The branches need to have some areas that are about 3/4″ in diameter, and even bigger diameter areas for larger macaws.
- Bird Food, treat, and Water Dishes
It works best to have the dishes hanging from the side for feed and water. Try to place the perches away from dishes so the food and water dish do not become soiled with bird droppings. Do not use plastic because your bird will chew and break the plastic and it can become hazardous.
- Macaw Playpen
A playpen is ideal for playtime outside of the cage. It is basically a large, free-standing perch with food and water bowls, and places to hang toys from. Commercially made Macaw playpens usually have a tray under them as well, to catch anything dropped to the floor.
- Macaw Bird Toys
Playthings can be such things as climbing ropes, chains, bells, parrot swings and wooden or other bird toys. Destructable toys are good because they are “interactive” so help relieve boredom, yet non-destructable toys will last longer. Macaw toys can be expensive.
- Where to Place a Macaw Cage
Because macaws are very loud, the amount of noise and the closeness of neighbors should be considered when determining where to keep you bird. Macaws are very social and inquisitive, so the room you house your pet in can be a room that gets visited frequently by the family. Place the cage at eye level in a quiet sunny area away from drafts.
Outdoor Aviaries: An outdoor or breeding aviary needs to have a protected shelter that can be heated and cooled where necessary, be well lit and ventilated, and have an attached flight cage. The flight should be long with a hardwood perch at each end. A climbing branch and a bird bath are nice additions too. Macaws are quite strong chewers, so the aviary needs to be of sturdy construction. Framework is generally constructed of brick or metal.
Indoor Bird Rooms: A room dedicated to house a Macaw is not necessary, but can be nice. It is especially nice if you have two or more large parrots that are compatible. It needs to have perches for standing and climbing, places for toys, and mounted food, water and treat dishes. Make sure the room is “bird-proof”. Macaws will chew on anything they can get their beaks around. If there is molding, trim, or window sills, they will all get destroyed. Carefully scrutinize the room to make sure anything the Macaw can chew on is safe, like no electrical cords, painted surfaces need to be lead free, and make sure any trees or plants are not toxic.
- Housing Maintenance
The basic cage care includes daily cleaning of the water and food dishes. Weekly wash all the perches and dirty toys. The floor should be wased about every other week. A total hosing down and disinfecting of an aviary should be done yearly. Replace anything that needs to be freshened such as old dishes, toys, and perches.
It was not until the early 20th century that reports of macaws breeding in captivity were released. Even still, very few birds were successfully bred at that time. This is probably because they are hard to sex and because most imported birds were kept individually as pets.
Today the number of macaws being bred in captivity is radically changing. This is due to a decrease in imports and because of the increase in demand for these wonderful birds. Today most of the birds sold as pets are captive bred. Several Macaw species are readily available in the pet industry as handfed babies, and more are becoming increasingly available.
- All Macaws are endangered, some threatened with extinction
- Successful breeding is helping to preserve Macaw species
- Captive breeding is reducing the number of wild caught birds
- Macaws in Captivity:All Macaws are bred in captivity in the United States,
with the exception of the Lear’s Macaw and the Spix’s Macaw.
- All Macaw Species are Listed on CITES:
Most captive bred macaw species are either:
– Listed on appendix I of CITES as threatened with extinction.
– Listed on appendix II of CITES as potentially threatened with extinction.
Lear’s Macaw and Spix’s Macaws are
– Listed as critically endangered with extinction.
- Regulation for Macaw Breeders:
There are no breeding regulations in the United States or Canada.
or in the United Kingdom. Other countries might have restrictions.
**You should consult with the authorities in your country
before undertaking breeding.
- Sexing Macaws
All macaws are sexually monomorphic. This means the sex of macaws cannot be reliably determined by physical characteristics, though the males are usually larger with larger heads.
Their sex must be determined by either a surgical probe called endoscopy, which can be done by many veterinarians; by DNA testing, usually a blood sample or a few plucked feathers sent to be diagnosed in a lab; or a chromosonal analysis.
- Pairing Macaws
Macaws breed readily but the sexes must be confirmed and the pair must be harmonious, bonded with each other.
It is best to let them macaws select their own mates. This is best done done in the winter a couple of months before breeding season.
The ideal breeding ages are 4 – 8 years, with a maximum breeding age of 30 – 35 years for the largest macaws.
- Breeding Environment
Macaw breeders will need a nest box. The macaws nestbox needs to be about three times the macaws body length in height and one body length in width and depth. The hole needs to be just large enough for an adult to enter.
There needs to be some blocks secured inside the box for the birds to climb out and also several blocks of wood on the inside walls for chewing. Provide 4″ – 8″ of wood shavings in the bottom of the nest box. Mount the next box high up in a corner facing outwards, a place that provides seclusion and safety.
- Egg Laying and Hatchlings
Most macaw species lay clutches of 2 – 3 eggs. The larger macaws will lay an egg every other day and the smaller macaws will lay every third day. The incubation period is 26-28 days. Once the hatchlings are born the parents will need a ready supply of food and especially like corn on the cob, fresh fruits, milk soaked bread and cuttlebones. The weaning ranges from 10 weeks to 8 months, depending on the species. It takes 16 or more weeks for the young to fledge.
Hand feeding baby Macaws is not recommended for a novice. They are difficult, and a more problematic bird to hand-feed from an early age. They are also somewhat more difficult to wean.
Macaw Health Care
A macaw that is well cared for will seldom become ill. But there are some diseases they can contract and there are some environmental things that can cause illness. There are also behavioral problems that they can develop. Though it is often difficult to determine illness, some visible signs of illness to be aware. Here is a list of things to be problems to be aware of, a list of signs that indicate a sick macaw, and what to do if your macaw becomes sick of has behavior problems.
Some of the more common illnesses seen in Macaws:
- 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
Visible signs of a sick Macaw
- 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
What to do if you have a sick Macaw:
- If you see any signs that make you think you have a sick macaw, Immediately place it in a warm, draft free, secure environment.
- Keep it 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 a avian veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible.
- Behavour problems usually stem from something missing in the bird’s environment. Boredom, lack of trust, lack of interaction with other birds or people can lead to problems like biting, feather plucking, and screaming. 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.
Macaw Behavior Problems
- Behavour problems usually stem from something missing in the bird’s environment.
- Boredom, lack of trust, lack of interaction with other birds or people can lead to problems like biting, feather plucking, and screaming.
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- Roger G. Sweeney, Macaws a Complete Owners Manual, Barron’s, 1992
- Arthur Freud, All About The Parrots, Howell Book House, 1986
- BirdLife International, A global Partnership of conservation organizations that strives to conserve birds, their habitats and global biodiversity, working with people towards sustainability in the use of natural resources.
- The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™
- Horst Schmidt, Macaws as a Hobby, T.F.H Publications, Inc.
- Werner Lantermann, Encyclopedia of Macaws, T.F.H Publications, Inc.
Featured Image Credit: duangnapa_b, Shutterstock