pet bird


military macaw
Military macaw

Macaws information

Macaws are small to large parrots from the New World. They are native to Central- and South America, including Mexico, and are often very colourful. Larger species tend to be more flamboyant than smaller species (small species are usually predominantly green). Most species live in the forest, particularly the rainforest, but there are a few species that inhabits woodlands or savannah-like environments.

The largest macaw is the Hyacinth Macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus) which can reach a length of 100 cm (39 in) and have a wingspan of up to 140 cm (56 in). The smallest member of the macaw group is the Red-shouldered Macaw (Diopsittaca nobilis) which stays around 30-35 cm (12-14 in) in length.

All macaws have slender bodies, long wings, and a long tapered tail. Macaws can be recognized on their oversized head and their light colored medical facial patch. The size of the facial patch varies from species to species; in some species it is no more than a yellow patch around the eyes and another patch at the beak base.

Macaws have dark, often black, beaks. The large and strong beak makes it possible for the bird to eat really large nuts, e.g. palm nuts. 

Macaw taxonomy

Of the many different genera in the family Psittacidae (where you will find all the true parrots), six genera are classified as macaws.

Family:         Psittacidae
Subfamily:    Psittacinae
Tribe:           Arini
Genera:        Anodorhynchus

During recent years, it has become increasingly popular to create macaw hybrids for the pet trade. Examples of popular hybrid macaws are the Catalinas macaw (A. ararauna x macao) and Harlequin macaw (Ara ararauna x chloroptera).

Macaws care

Before you get a macaw, read this
Six species of macaw has already been extinct, Spix's Macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii) only exists in captivity, and a majority of the remaining species is endangered in the wild. Illegal trapping for the pet trade is one of the main treats and it is therefore very important to refrain from purchasing wild caught specimens or specimens of unclear origin.

International trade of all macaw species is regulated by CITES. Some species are illegal to trade for commercial purposes, while others can be legally traded if the CITES requirements are fulfilled.

Only purchase captive bred macaws with the proper certification. It is not unusual for traders to try and pass off wild caught specimens are captive bred.  

Macaw care
Macaws are intelligent, curious and social and need a lot of attention and things to do in captivity; otherwise they can easily become depressed. They are very playful and lively and can be quite boisterous. They can be very loud and are known to mimic not only the sounds of their keeper but all sorts of sounds in their environment. In the wild, macaws form pairs within small flocks and “talk” a lot with each other.   

The minimum size requirements for the cage naturally depend on the size of your bird and if you keep a single bird, a pair or several birds together. The larger the better; macaws do not fare well in small cages. If your bird isn’t given opportunity to be active, its muscles will deteriorate.

Macaws like to keep clean and will appreciate being sprayed with lukewarm water or getting a shallow dish to bathe in.

A mineral-block or similar in the cage will help you bird keep its beak in shape. If it despite this becomes overgrown or deformed, you need to trim it. The same is true for nails; give your bird a chance to keep them in trim by including concrete perches or similar in the cage, but be prepared to trim them manually if this isn’t enough.

Maintenance schedule
Clean water and food dishes on a daily basis.
Wash perches and toys once a week.
Clean the floor every other week.
Clean the entire cage once or twice a year.   

Feeding Macaws

Macaws consume a lot of energy, especially if they are allowed to fly around in your home or in a large aviary. In the wild they eat oily nuts and seeds rich in calories and they need to be given a similar diet in captivity. If your Macaw does not get enough exercise, you may however be forced to cut down on its food rations to prevent obesity.

Generally speaking, large macaw species are used to a diet of various palm nuts, while small species prefer to eat seeds, nuts and fruits.

It is important to provide your bird with a varied diet, to prevent malnutrition, boost the immune system and make life in captivity less monotonous. A formulated parrot mix with added vitamins and calcium from the pet shop is a good base, but it should ideally be supplemented with many other types of food, e.g. seeds, grains, nuts and fresh fruit. Macaws are also known to appreciate vegetables, berries, flowers, flower buds, and dried fruit. You can give your bird more protein by serving it occasional small portions of cooked chicken meat.

Do not feed your bird avocado, since it is suspected to be toxic to macaws.  

In the wild, macaws are known to eat clay. Exactly why remains undetermined, but the clay is believed to serve as an antidote to poisonous seeds, and/or be a way of getting enough sodium. Even the chicks in the nest are fed clay by their parents. 

Breeding Macaws

Macaws are considered difficult to breed in captivity and the first known occurrences did not take place until the early 1900s. Macaws are difficult to sex as both sexes look similar, but the males are usually somewhat larger.

Before any mating takes place, the couple must bond with each other. Macaws should ideally be allowed to select their own mates, since this increases the chance of mating.

Provide your couple with a nesting box that is roughly three times as high as the birds, but only one body length in width and depth. The birds should only be able to barely sqeeze themselves through the hole; otherwise the hole will most likely be considered too big. Place the box in a corner facing outwards, preferably as high up as possible. Inside the box you should place some blocks to make it easy for the bird to exit the box. (The blocks should also be suitable for chewing, so choose material wisely.) Cover the bottom of the box with wood shavings.

The clutch size very from species to species, but 2-3 eggs per clutch is normal for many species. Large species normally lay one egg every second day, while smaller species wait three days between each egg.

For most species of macaw, the eggs will hatch after 25-30 days. The chicks can be fed bread soaked in milk, fresh fruit, corn and similar. The parents will do the feeding; you just have to provide them with the food. (Macaws are hard to hand-feed and hand-feeding is not recommended for novice breeders.) Some species of macaw stop feeding their young when they are only 10 weeks old, others continue for up to 8 months. Macaws are normally not ready to fly until they are at least 16 weeks of age.

Macaw Health

The Macaw is a robust bird that rarely falls ill, provided of course that it is well cared for. If it falls ill, it is normally hard to determine the problem.

Sigs of illness in macaws:

  1. apathy
  2. unusual mood swings
  3. loss of appetite
  4. ruffled plumage
  5. drooping wings
  6. sagging body
  7. bulges in feathering
  8. drooling 
  9. watery eyes
  10. partially closed eyes
  11. swollen eyelids
  12. laboured breathing 
  13. dirty vent
  14. unusual faeces

If you suspect illness, let a vet check your bird. Keep the room warm 30°C / 86°F, make the parrot feel really safe (e.g. by not letting any other pets into the room), and place food and water where it is easily accessible.  

The intelligent and social macaw can grow depressed in a monotonous and lonely environment. Feather-picking and apathy are common signs. Spend a lot of time with your bird and make sure that it is entertained while you are away, e.g. by giving it toys, many different types of food, and things to investigate.

Macaw Facts

Macaw fact # 1
The Native American Pueblo people have kept macaws as pets since 1100 A.D.

Macaw fact # 2
A macaw is depicted on the reverse side of the 10-Brazilian Reais banknote.

Macaw fact # 3
Unfortunately, macaws are quite often sought out by thieves. You can deter bird thieves by banding your bird. Also note down individual characteristics in case you have to reclaim your bird from the police. A microchip implant can be coded with a unique identification number, which can then be registered in the national registry system.  

Macaw fact # 4
Macaws can be really loud, so don’t place the cage where it may disturb your neighbours.

Macaw fact # 5
Just like other parrots, the macaw has its first and fourth toe pointing backwards.

Macaw lifespan

Macaws are often mistakenly thought to live up to 75 years or more, but their true lifespan is 35-55 years. They will usually start to display signs of old age around 40.


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