- The Blue and Gold Macaw
- The Greenwing Macaw
- The Hahn’s Macaw and the Noble Macaw
- The Hyacinth Macaw
- The Military Macaw
- The Scarlet Macaw
Bird Food for Your Macaw
What do macaws eat? Wild macaws aren’t handed bird food in a coop cup like most pet macaws. In the wild, most macaws eat a variety of seeds, plant material, fruits, and nuts. The wild macaw’s diet tends to be high in fat, which is acceptable for a bird that spends its day flying through the rainforest, finding food, nesting, and rearing chicks.
Companion macaws tend to have a much easier life than their wild counterparts, but they miss out on the ability to forage for their food, a behavior that comes naturally. Lafeber’s bird foods are ideal for the lively macaw, a bird that appreciates the opportunity to tear apart its meals. Macaws tend to love Nutri-Nuts, Pellet-Berries, Avi-Cakes and Nutri-Berries.
The Blue and Gold Macaw
The Blue and Gold Macaw (Ara ararauna), a native of South and Central America, is the most popular and widely found macaw in the United States due to its wonderful temperament, prolific breeding ability, and reasonable cost. Before the ban on imported birds, the Blue and Gold Macaw was brought into the U.S. in astounding numbers, allowing for many breeders to obtain good breeding stock, and enabling the price to remain low, which is why you will find this macaw more widely available than any other. Since Blue and Gold Macaws are easily found as hand-raised babies, you will have the opportunity to acquire these birds as tame, loving youngsters. Do not acquire a bird until it has been fully weaned.
The Blue and Gold Macaw is aptly named, with a gorgeous blue body and dark lemon-yellow chest, this is a bird that’s hard to miss. This macaw has a green strip of feathers just above its black beak, and a partially naked face that will blush pink when it is excited. Its feet are dark gray or black, and it has a black “beard” of feathers just below its beak. The Blue and Gold is prized for its beautiful plumage – in pre-Columbian society they made large tapestries of the blue and yellow feathers.
Like most macaws, the Blue and Gold is noisy and is prone to bouts of screaming. You will not be able to hide this pet from a landlord, so understand the vocal abilities of this bird before you bring it home. There really is no way to make a screaming macaw cease and desist its vocalizations, especially around dusk. When you take home your Blue and Gold, take home a pair of earplugs too.
Blue and Golds are apt talkers, able to repeat simple words and phrases. Like other birds, Blue and Golds are prone to self-mutilation and nutritional disorders, and a variety of diseases, including Macaw Wasting Syndrome. These things can be avoided, however, with proper care and regular veterinary attention. If a Blue and Gold remains healthy, it can live upwards of 70 years. This is a bird that will be with you for a lifetime, and you should prepare for this possibility, which may even include a trust or a clause in your Will dedicated to the bird.
The Greenwing Macaw
At about 35 inches from its crimson head to the tip of its tapered tail, and weighing in at between 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 pounds, the greenwing macaw (Ara chloroptera) is one of the largest birds in its species, almost as large as the Buffon’s macaw or the hyacinth. Of the larger macaws, the greenwing is possibly third most popular large companion macaw beneath the blue and gold macaw and the scarlet.
This big beauty hails from regions in Panama, Columbia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Guyana, Brazil, Peru, Surinam, French Guiana, Paraguay, Argentina, and Bolivia, and covers roughly the same area as the blue and gold macaw. Its wild diet in the tropical lowlands is much the same as the blue and gold’s, including fruit, seeds, berries, nuts – it also feeds at the famous “clay cliffs” known for the a high mineral content said to neutralize toxins.
The greenwing has, not surprisingly, a band of forest-green at the center of its wings; below the green is a bright turquoise and above is a cherry-red that extends up and over the whole of the bird’s body and head; the flights are dark blue and the tail is very long and is comprised of blue and red feathers. The beak has a black lower mandible and a horn-colored upper mandible and is formidable in size, able to crack difficult nuts with ease.
Many people mistake the greenwing for the scarlet macaw, but it’s easy to tell the difference – the scarlet has bright yellow feathers on the wing where the greenwing has green feathers; the greenwing has bands of small, red feathers lining the fleshy patch on its face; the scarlet’s face is naked. In most cases, the greenwing is also a far larger bird.
That great big beak can look intimidating, but the greenwing is actually the gentler of the large macaws, not known for biting and massive mood swings. A well-raised greenwing, one that’s healthy and well-treated, is a pleasant companion and long-time friend, with a lifespan of over 80 years. The greenwing can talk, but is not known to be a chatterbox; instead, an owner can expect intermittent screaming, which is quite loud, but not persistent, that is, if the bird is being cared for properly. An unhappy greenwing can cause a ruckus that will get someone tossed out of an apartment building.
The greenwing’s size alone is a deterrent for many bird owners, who don’t have the room for such a large animal. The greenwing needs a very large cage. Stainless steel cages are now becoming popular and less expensive, and are a good material for greenwing housing; this bird can easily bend or break the bars of a cheaply-made cage. Powder coated cages are fine too if they’re well-made, and the bird will greatly appreciate a cage with a playtop.
Greenwings get along with most other macaws their size, so keeping two macaws together is fine, but don’t allow birds of different species to breed.
The Hahn’s Macaw and the Noble Macaw
Originally from South America, these two closely related subspecies are a favorite of macaw fanciers due to their compact size, intelligence, and superb pet quality. Though they are not as flashy as their larger cousins, the Hahn’s and the Noble Macaws (Ara nobilis nobilis & Ara nobilis cumanensis) are highly prized for their “large macaw” personality in a mini macaw body. They are easier to find than some of the other macaw species, especially the Hahn’s, which is a favorite of breeders – the space it takes to breed these birds is far less than with the much larger macaws.
The smallest of the miniature macaws, both the Hahn’s and the Noble are primarily green with a fleshy white face-patch. The Noble is slightly larger than the Hahn’s, though both birds are smaller than some of the larger conure species, and can easily be mistaken for a conure by a novice. These birds are between 12 and 14 inches long, making them a good apartment bird – but only if your neighbors are deaf. These are noisy birds, especially if you have more than one. Their voices are grating – they are not the most pleasant sounding birds in the parrot family. These birds are wonderful talkers, however, and will learn many words and phrases. They are good whistlers too, but may take to whistling over talking, so teach them to talk before you give whistling lessons.
Like their larger relatives, the Hahn’s and the Noble are very intelligent and are quick to learn vocalizations and tricks – like opening the cage door. When hand-raised, both of these birds make wonderful pets, and owners will be charmed by their antics – they are active birds, always on the look out for something fun to chew or climb on – watch out for your furniture and drapes. These mini macaws are far more appropriate for children than a larger macaw is – they are easier to handle because of their smaller size, and their sweet temperament makes them less prone to nipping. However, take caution where birds and children are concerned – there is always the potential for injury on both sides.
As with any other bird, the Hahn’s and the Noble need a well-balanced, nutritious diet to survive, the lack of which will greatly reduce its lifespan. These birds need space and exercise, and will become overweight if confined for too many hours a day. Remember, too, that macaws are extremely intelligent birds and need a lot of stimulation to maintain a healthy attitude – a depressed or unhappy macaw can develop neurosis and self-mutilating disorders. These birds are reported to live for more than 40-50 years if cared-for properly.
The Hyacinth Macaw
The Hyacinth Macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus) is possibly the most stunning of the macaw family, and is certainly the largest. Originally from Brazil, Paraguay, and Bolivia, the Hyacinth is the “Great Dane” of companion birds, with the mature male reaching over forty inches in length. Very few people actually have a Hyacinth Macaw, and will probably only have the pleasure of seeing one in a zoo or a larger bird shop. Despite their size, penchant for destruction, loudness, and expense, Hyacinths are the penultimate companion bird for the person who has the time, patience, and wallet to properly keep this beautiful beast.
The Hyacinth is a stunning cobalt color all over its body, with a ring of bright yellow around its eye and the same color yellow at the base and the corners of its beak. The Hyacinth is not twice as large as other large macaws, though its big personality makes other macaws seem like dwarves in its presence.
Often called “gentle giants,” the Hyacinth is indeed affectionate, but gentle it is not. Hyacinths subdue very easily, but they tend to want to play rough with other Hyacinths, and with their “person.” Its beak carries over two hundred pounds of pressure per square inch – that means that it could snap a broomstick in two with one crunch. Even when a Hyacinth is very tame, it can still be nippy (if you could call that big beak nippy), but that is usually playful behavior. Because their beak is so intimidating, this bird is best kept by a person who is not daunted by the thought of being bitten – there’s no guarantee, even with the tamest bird, that the occasional bite will not happen.
If you have close neighbors, you may want to reconsider getting a Hyacinth. This bird is extremely loud and prone to screeching. One Hyacinth might not be so annoying to neighbors, but a pair will pump up the volume. Also, a loud Hyacinth can attract birdnappers, so make sure to keep your birds safe.
Hyacinths are not the best talkers among the macaws, but they will learn a few favorite words and phrases and repeat them over and over. These birds are highly intelligent, and may learn to contextualize certain words as well.
The right owner for a Hyacinth macaw is someone who has either kept many birds successfully before, or someone who has done a lot of research, has consulted the experts, and knows exactly what they’re getting into. Still, the Hyacinth is not a great first bird simply because it can be a handful.
The Hyacinth lives primarily in the scrublands at the outskirts of the rainforest, though its large range also includes grasslands and lightly forested regions. It is an endangered species – there are an estimated 2500-5000 Hyacinth macaws left in the wild today. Destruction of their environment, hunting for feathers and food, and illegal poaching for the pet trade have contributed to the Hyacinth’s declining numbers. Eggs and nestlings have some natural predators as well.
The Hyacinth is part of many conservation programs: the Species Survival Plan, which helps to ensure the survival of select species, and the World Wildlife Fund-Brazil, which has had their Hyacinth Macaw Project going for ten years, monitoring Hyacinth macaws, setting up artificial nests, and working with local land owners to protect the species, are among them.
Another reason why these birds are so rare, both in the wild and in the pet trade, is because they develop much more slowly than companion birds. Babies fledge (leave the nest) at about 13 weeks, but they don’t become fully functioning adults for another six months. Breeding age begins at about seven years of age. These birds can live to be more than sixty years old if cared for properly.
Hyacinth macaws need a very specific diet – in the wild this bird’s diet consists almost wholly of palm nuts from two specific types of palm tress. The Hyacinth will harvest the nuts from the trees in the wild, though the bird also has a very characteristic way of finding the nuts already stripped of their tough, fibrous outer coating: Hyacinths forage in cattle lands looking for dung containing the nuts, which are indigestible to the cattle, but easier for the Hyacinth to open – the cow has done most of the work. The diet is very high in fat, and though you may not be able to find palm nuts (especially those predigested by cattle!), you can substitute Brazil nuts, walnuts, almonds, macadamias, coconut, pistachios, and cashews.
You will probably never see an obese Hyacinth – they seem to metabolize fat very easily, and in fact need to be encouraged to eat anything else, such as fruits and vegetables, which should be fed daily. Of course, a good seed and pellets based diet can be offered as well. Store-bought snacks are great too.
This large bird needs an exceptionally large housing area. Be willing to devote a large part of their home to this bird. A “regular” cage isn’t appropriate in this case. Not only are most commercial cages too small, the Hyacinth can easily break out of them. A custom cage or one of the very largest commercial cages would do, though a full room, patio, or other safely enclosed area is better. All birds benefit from flying, and this bird will need a lot of room if it’s going to enjoy this important exercise. Even a clipped Hyacinth needs plenty of room to flap and clamber around.
Hyacinths can be very destructive, and will need lots of wooden toys and branches to chew. A sturdy playgym is a must, though even the sturdiest commercially built playgyms will have a hard time withstanding that beak. Large, safe, replaceable trees are a good bet too.
This bird, like all parrots, needs a lot of free time daily to play with its humans or just hang out. It is a social bird, usually seen in pairs or in small groups in the wild. They are not “loners,” and will languish without company. Also, confined Hyacinth will become cranky and neurotic, and can begin to self-mutilate and scream excessively. They will get along with other birds, particularly New World parrots, but individuals should be introduced early.
This species is not often found in full service pet shops because they are quite expensive – retail buyers should expect to pay upwards of $10,000 for a baby Hyacinth, perhaps more for a mature, ready-to-breed adult. Pairs bring top dollar, especially if they are “proven,” having bred successfully before. Because these birds are so rare, many of them are in breeding programs, rather than being bred by novices. Many breeders hope eventually to reintroduce this species into the wild, where their numbers are rapidly declining. It is almost not fair to the species to see them in “pet-only” homes, when there is a real danger that this beautiful giant may disappear forever.
The Military Macaw
The Military macaw (Ara militaris), is a lively, energetic bird and is considered one of the larger macaws, though it’s slightly smaller at 27-29 inches than the Blue and Gold macaw. There are three sub-species of Military macaw, though they look quite similar to the untrained eye with just slight shades of green differentiating them. There’s no difference in companion quality between the three subspecies. It is thought that the majority of these macaws sold in the United States are of the Mexican variety, a little larger than the other two.
In the wild, the Military can be found in Bolivia, Mexico, Columbia, Venezuela, Ecuador, northern Peru, and Argentina. Wild Military macaws nest high in canyon walls in crags in the cliffs, and they will also nest in hollow trees like other macaws. They are frequently found in arid environments, woodlands, and semi-arid terrain near water. The Military is found in small “squadrons,” between two and eight birds traveling together at a time. It has all but disappeared in some of its natural habitat and is on the CITES I list of endangered species. This bird may not be easy to acquire, but some breeders have put effort into keeping the species in the pet trade. Still, the bird’s overall green color makes it less flashy than the other macaws, the possible reason for lacking the popularity of the Blue and Gold or the Scarlet.
The Military macaw is sometimes confused with the Buffon’s macaw, but if you put the two side by side, it’s easy to tell the difference – the Buffon’s is much larger in comparison to the Military, and though the coloring is remarkably similar, the Buffon’s has a much more prominent tuft of red feathers at the base of the upper mandible. Both macaws have a rose-colored naked face-patch that blushes bright red when the birds are excited.
The Military macaw earns its title only though its “military attire.” It looks as if it’s getting ready to march in a parade in full regalia. But its personality is less “salty sailor” than boisterous recruit. It is great at “buffaloing” its human friends, putting on a good show of being aggressive, when in fact, the bird is often bluffing. Most of individuals can be socialized to be sweet and affectionate.
The Military macaw should get along with other large macaws, and even the larger of the minis, but each bird is an individual, and some won’t want another bird in their “foxhole.”
This bird isn’t any noisier than the other macaws, which is to say, the neighbors will know the bird is there. They are known to repeat words and phrases, and will whistle, but aren’t the best talkers in the parrot community.
If properly socialized, this bird has a wonderful temperament, and makes a great companion. Like most birds, if it is left alone for too long, confined, or mistreated, it can become irritable, snappish, and may become ill or self-mutilate.
Bathing is important for the overall condition of this bird, so invest in a shower perch. There’s no need for fancy bathing solutions – just plain water will do.
Owners should know that the Military needs a great deal of hands-on attention and time outside of its “barracks.” Most of these birds are mischievous, and shouldn’t be left alone in a place where it can chew on something it shouldn’t, like electric wires, treated wood, and other toxic items. The Military macaw’s beak is powerful, and it can easily destroy furniture and other household items.
Like all of the larger macaws with long tails, the Military needs a large cage. This bird’s feathers, especially the tail, will become ratty in a smaller cage, and the bird will look terrible, and be miserable as well. A tall cage is important, one with a dome top or a top that opens to become a playtop. The horizontal space should be no less than four feet wide, with plenty of room to spread and flap the wings – but bigger is better. All doors on the cage should have bird-proof locks – this macaw is better than Houdini at getting out of its quarters.
Handfeeding and young Military macaws can be fussy eaters, and need a lot of encouragement to consume their daily rations. Young Military macaws need a diet that’s higher in fat and protein than some other macaws. Once the bird is fully weaned, a base diet of seed and pellets, along with a wide variety of fresh foods, vegetables, fruits, and healthy cooked foods is recommended. If cared for properly, the Military macaw can live to be over 60 years old. This bird may not be as flashy as its larger cousins, but it certainly doesn’t lack in the personality department, and makes a good “front line” companion for anyone who chooses to call it out of the reserves.
The Scarlet Macaw
There’s nothing flashier than a scarlet macaw, making it a popular large bird among fanciers and novices alike. It’s not unusual for someone to begin their bird collection with a scarlet, though this bird is often not a great choice for the novice. The scarlet is just so gorgeous and filled with personality, it’s tough for someone with a few extra bucks in their pocket to refuse.
The Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao) has an enormous natural range in Central and South America and is found in two subspecies: Ara macao cyanoptera, which hails from Central America, primarily from Belize, Guatemala, Panama, Mexico, and Nicaragua; and Ara macao macao, found in South America, including the countries of Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Peru, Surinam, and Venezuela. The Central American scarlet is said to be larger and have more blue than green on its wings than the South American, if it has any green at all.
Some scientists believe that these aren’t true subspecies, but the final word isn’t out on this yet, though many scientists hold rigorously to the distinct classifications. Others break the scarlets into three groups – Mexican, Central, and South American based on size and coloration. In general, the Mexican will have less yellow and be smaller than the others; the South American is a little larger and has a little more yellow on the wing; the Central American scarlet is the stunning “prize” of the three, a large bird with a wide band of yellow on the wing.
Whatever the case, only knowledgeable breeders will take the time to carefully distinguish between these differences and breed only scarlets from the same region together. That being said, it might happen that the scarlets you buy from backyard breeders will be “mixed,” which doesn’t do anything to harm their beauty or quality as a companion, but serious aviculturists will recommend against such pairings, because it dilutes the gene pool and eventually the regional differences will be lost. In any case, it’s a good idea to find out which kind of scarlet you are buying.
The scarlet macaw, because of its beauty, has been depleted in the wild, though efforts are taking place in Costa Rica and other countries to help save current populations or to repopulate area formerly occupied by these birds. They are on the CITES Appendix I list, and cannot be brought into the United States from the wild for the pet trade (nor can any other parrot), though they are still being threatened in the wild due to deforestation, trapping for food and feathers, and smuggling.
The scarlet ranges in size from 32-39 inches in length, and is primarily red, as its name implies, with a band of yellow in the center of the wings, followed by a band of blue leading to the flight feathers. In some birds, there may be a band of green where the yellow meets the blue. Some people confuse the scarlet and the greenwinged macaw, though there are prominent differences. The greenwinged, in general, is a much larger bird and has a large band of green on the wing. The primary difference, however, is in the face – the scarlet has a naked face and the greenwinged has tiny red lines of feathers circling down from the eyes onto the face patch. Both birds have a similarly colored beak, a black lower mandible and a horn-colored upper mandible (with a little bit of black where the two parts of the beak meet).
The scarlet is a “sassy” bird, filled with energy and personality. It’s highly intelligent and is a capable escape artist. It has distinct likes and dislikes, and can become a “one person bird” if care is not taken to train the bird otherwise. The beak is formidable and it can pack a wallop of a bite, so it’s not a great bird for children. Even the tamest of these birds can be “nippy” to get its way – it’s not a companion for meek or fearful individuals.
This is an easily trainable bird and can be taught complicated “tricks” if done gently and with patience. It is not the most competent talker in the macaw family, but with those looks, it doesn’t have to talk. It will learn a few words and phrases, though it will do more screaming than talking. This is not a bird for someone living among sensitive neighbors or with an infant, unless there’s plenty of space between the bird and those who will be disturbed by its loud screeching.
Like all birds, the scarlet macaw will thrive in a large environment, and will suffer in a cage that’s inadequate for its size. This bird is known for self-mutilation when confined, and will not do well with an owner who doesn’t plan on allowing it sufficient out-of-cage time. Large swings and toys are a must, too, because the scarlet is an active bird that likes to play and chew. If not given the opportunity to chew, it will become quite unhappy and may turn the chewing onto its feathers. Properly fed and cared for, this bird is reported to have a life span of over 70 years.
Scarlets live in small groups in the wild and a lone scarlet in a household will become very lonely. This is not a bird for someone who isn’t home a lot, or someone who doesn’t understand the intricacies and responsibilities of bird keeping. This is a sensitive, clever bird that can easily become bored and miserable, leading to excessive noise, plucking, and biting. Boredom and birds are an unhappy mix.
Scarlets can be housed with other large macaws, but it’s not appropriate to breed different species to one another, creating hybrid birds which cannot contribute their genes to the declining Scarlet population in the U.S. and the world.