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Macaws: Your comprehensive guide

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What to expect from your Macaw

Macaws require a great deal of attention, living space and owner knowledge. Macaws are generally intelligent, highly interactive parrots. Blue and gold macaws have a mischievous nature and are the most family-oriented macaw species, even though they may be nervous around strangers. Although scarlet macaws tend to bond with an individual person, they can be untrustworthy and nippy with anyone. Green-winged macaws are less intimidating and calmer but can be very loud. Macaws have limited ability to mimic words. Loud shrieks and squawks may become a problem. Macaws are relatively difficult to breed (with the exception of blue and golds), but the offspring are easy to hand raise. Macaws become aggressive and protective of their nest box during the breeding season.

Vital statistics

  • Body length: 12-39 inches (30-100 cm)
  • Body weight: 200-1500 grams
  • Age of sexual maturity: mini 4-6 years, large 5-7 years
  • Maximum life span: 50 years

Is your Macaw a male or a female?

In most macaw species it is difficult to distinguish a male from a female based on physical characteristics; therefore, endoscopy or laboratory methods must be used for sex determination in breeding facilities.

What do Macaws do all day?

Macaws are playful and love to chew, but they can be very destructive. They require frequent training and structured play to focus their energies. Any toys must be free of toxic metals, hooks, sharp objects and easily consumed components. Providing large diameter fresh-cut branches from non-toxic, pesticide-free trees is suggested for macaws. Check with your veterinarian for recommendations on locally available safe trees.

Are Macaws tame?

Young, hand-raised macaws adapt readily to new surroundings and handling procedures. They should be exposed early in life to novel situations (car travel, hospital visits, multiple visitors in the household, other household pets) so that they are well adjusted to these events. However, behavior abnormalities are common. Imprinted hand-raised macaws may scream for attention and frequently become feather pickers. Social regurgitation to family members may be pronounced. Discipline, leadership, patience, a sense of ritual and the offering of rewards are necessary to modify the behavior of macaws.

How to identify your bird

One method used to permanently identify your macaw in case of loss or escape is for your avian veterinarian to inject a custom microchip under the skin. Although individually numbered leg bands or rings may be applied, this method is unreliable and may result in potential damage to the bird.

Why the wings should be clipped

Macaws that are allowed unrestricted access in the home can encounter numerous physical dangers or toxins (as well as cause significant destruction); therefore, wing clipping is recommended. The goal of clipping the wings is not to make the bird incapable of flight, but to prevent it from developing rapid and sustained flight and to prevent escape. Trimming the wings may keep the bird more dependent on its owner and less aggressive.

How to keep your Macaw healthy, happy and safe

  • Give lots of attention.
  • Feed a fresh, high quality, toxin-free formulated diet with daily supplementation of chopped vegetables and fruit according to manufacturer’s recommendations.
  • Grit is not necessary with modern captive bird diets.
  • Provide clean, fresh uncontaminated water.
  • Replace food and water containers twice daily to maximize activity in a healthy bird.
  • Provide an occasional opportunity for bath, shower or misting (at least weekly).
  • Avoid spraying house with insecticides.

Housing for your Macaw should:

  • be as large as possible.
  • be clean, secure and safe and easy to service.
  • be constructed of durable, nontoxic material (avoid zinc).
  • contain variable-sized perches made of clean, nontoxic, pesticide-free tree branches.
  • have food and water containers placed at opposite ends of the enclosure.
  • avoid having perches located directly over food containers.
  • contain toys and accessories that are moved around occasionally to prevent boredom and aggression.
  • offer occasional opportunity for protected outdoor exposure to fresh air, sunlight (not through glass) and exercise.

Macaws are very curious and will investigate anything new in their environment. That is why it is important to prevent their access to:

  • ceiling fans
  • hot cooking oil
  • overheated nonstick-coated cookware
  • leg chains
  • sandpaper-covered perches
  • tobacco and cigarette smoke
  • chocolate, avocado, salt, alcohol
  • toxic houseplants
  • pesticides
  • toxic fumes
  • easily dismantled toys
  • dogs, cats and young children
  • cedar, redwood and pressure-treated wood shavings
  • sources of lead or zinc
  • plug-in air fresheners
  • heavily-scented candles

What your Veterinarian looks for in a healthy Macaw

  • Dry, open nares
  • Clear, bright eyes (no discharge)
  • Smooth beak
  • Alert, erect posture
  • Body free of lumps and bumps
  • Smooth, bright feathers without color breaks, transparency or ragged edges
  • Even, reptilian pattern on the feet, and nails of appropriate length

Most common disorders of Macaws

  • Aggression
  • Reproductive disorders
  • Feather picking and feather cysts
  • Oral and cloacal papillomatosis
  • Mutilation syndrome
  • Chlamydiosis
  • Proventricular dilatation disease
  • Bacterial and viral infections
  • Drug sensitivities
  • Allergies
  • Sunken eye sinusitis
  • Toe deformities in young macaws
  • Acne (ingrown facial feathers)
  • Respiratory infections
  • Malcolored feathers

Some diseases in macaws are the result of malnutrition. Visiting your avian veterinarian for routine health checks will help prevent many diseases and support you in having a long, satisfying relationship with your macaw. For help in finding an avian veterinarian in your area, contact the Association of Avian Veterinarians.

Background information

Macaws are some of the most intelligent and beautifully colored parrots. They are certainly the largest companion bird species. Although they are native to Mexico and Central and South America, most free-ranging species are considered threatened or endangered, and efforts to protect these birds resulted in a ban on importation for pet purposes in the United States. High quality companion birds are available from breeders. The most common large macaws include the blue and gold, scarlet, green-winged and hyacinth. These birds are not suitable as pets for the average family because they require extensive care and space and are extremely noisy. More suited to captivity are those species known as the miniature macaws, including the severe, Hahn’s, yellow-collared and noble. These smaller birds have more acceptable vocalization levels and are less destructive; however, fewer of these are bred in captivity. As a result, the current availability is low and the genetic pool is limited.

 

Credit: Used with permission of the Zoological Education Network.  Reviewed by Amy I. Attas V.M.D.
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