Genuses Ara, Andorhynchus, Diopsittaca, Primolius
This care sheet outlines basic care instructions for all species of macaws. It is recommended that extra research be done for the particular species that you will be acquiring.
There are two sizes of macaws: mini macaws and large macaws. Mini macaws include Hahn’s macaws, Illeger’s macaws and yellow collared macaws. Large macaws include blue & gold macaws, military macaws, scarlet macaws, green wing macaws and hyacinth macaws
From Mexico south to northern Argentina
AVERAGE ADULT SIZE:
Mini macaws - 12” - 18” in length
Large macaws - 19” - 40” in length
AGE OF SEXUAL MATURITY:
Minis - 4 - 6 years, Large - 5 - 7 years
MALE OR FEMALE:
Macaws are not sexually dimorphic, which means males and females are not visually different. A proper DNA test by a qualified avian veterinarian can tell you whether your pet is a boy or girl.
Macaws vary greatly in size. Colors can range from yellows and greens to the beautiful cobalt blue of the hyacinth macaw. Macaws have very large, powerful beaks that can easily crush the shells of nuts, with the larger macaws generating a pressure of 2000 psi. Macaws are heavy-bodied birds, with beautiful, long tails. The sides of their faces are white and lack feathers (except the hyacinth which has just a bare crescent shape next to its bottom beak). Some species of macaws have lines of small feathers decorating these bare face patches. Beak colors vary from flesh colored to completely black.
Macaws have naturally substantial beaks, and they often grow into sharp looking points. This is normal and it does not necessarily mean your parrot needs a beak trim. If given the proper toys, your parrot will keep its beak trimmed properly. Although the beak can be intimidating, keep in mind that your bird often uses its beak as a third foot and may use it to climb onto your hand. Only a qualified avian veterinarian should trim your parrot’s beak. The beak contains nerves and blood vessels, which can be badly damaged by an unqualified groomer.
SIGNS OF A HEALTHY ANIMAL:
A healthy parrot should be perky, active and alert with bright clear eyes, cere and “nares” (nostrils). You should observe your parrot eating and drinking throughout the day, although this activity is most apparent in the morning and early evening or when you are eating. Feathers should be neat and well groomed. Feet and legs should be smooth and free of bumps and rough scales. Macaws vocalize regularly with loud squawks, clicks, whistles and learned words. They enjoy communicating and mimicking. A healthy macaw is confident and inquisitive, although he may be extremely cautious as well. Because macaws can be very loud, they are not recommended for apartment dwellers.
NORMAL BEHAVIOR & INTERACTION:
Birds are flock-oriented animals, and they do very well with other birds in the home to communicate with. However, YOU as the caretaker become a flock member as well. Daily attention is extremely important for your parrot. A neglected bird becomes a problem bird. Extreme screaming and biting is often the result of a badly trained animal that is not often handled. As a parrot owner, be prepared to interact and work with your pet on a regular basis. Respect the high intelligence level of your parrot by talking with, playing with and caring for him as if he is a small child. Macaws have the intelligence level of a 4-8 year old child, with the emotional level a toddler. Basically, they are extremely intelligent and clever 2 year-olds! They can be very demanding as well, often throwing temper tantrums if they don’t get what they want, and much like that two year old toddler child. This frustration can result in fits of screaming and toy throwing. Macaws can learn to speak well, and seem excited about communicating with their human companions.
DO NOT buy a macaw solely for their ability to speak and mimic. There is NO guarantee that your parrot will talk.
Macaws require an experienced owner who is educated in macaw behavior and parrot keeping. They are large and sometimes intimidating parrots. Their beaks are extremely powerful and must be respected. Never allow a macaw to sit on your shoulder. No matter how much your trust your bird, there is always a chance something can spook or anger him into making the mistake of biting your face. It only takes one time to do irreversible damage.
Macaws are avid chewers and the larger species can chip away wood as quick as a beaver. If not given the proper toys to keep them busy, they will become aggravated and perturbed, often picking on the closest thing to take the place of a toy - such as a doorway or a piece of furniture. Macaws can be very charming and engaging, capturing the hearts of those around him. They are also excellent non-verbal communicators, sometimes even blushing when excited.
Every parrot, even within the same species, has his or her own personality. Some parrots can be very bold and interactive, and some can be more withdrawn and shy. The more you work with your pet, the more comfortable he will become and the more his personality will emerge. Purchase your parrot ready to accept whatever he may become - just like having a child. Buying a parrot is a long-term commitment-consider the fact that he or she may live 50 or more years! Often, one person of the family in particular will pay the most attention to the family parrot, which the bird greatly appreciates. The bird, in turn, attaches himself to that one person. However, if each family member gives the parrot equal attention when the bird is young, the bird will become well adjusted to every family member.
Pay close attention to your pet parrot’s body language. Ruffled feathers can mean an aggravated parrot. Also, a parrot can “pin” his eyes - make the pupils smaller purposely - when angry or excited. A calm parrot will appear relaxed, with feathers smooth and an erect posture. An angry or threatened parrot will attempt to look larger and more threatening by puffing his feathers and crouching lower than normal. Macaws have extremely strong feet and seem to take enjoyment in hanging and swinging upside-down in their cage. They can manipulate very large items and very tiny items, such as single seeds, with their feet.
Contrary to popular belief, parrots DO NOT live by seed alone! Recent studies regarding companion bird diets have revealed that seed only diets can be extremely dangerous. A seed only diet can result in nutrient deficiency and diseases such as liver disease, kidney disease, obesity and cardiac disease, all of which can severely shorten the life expectancy of your pet. Seed is very limited in nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Even the new “fortified” seed diets on the market are still lacking, as the bird will only eat the inside of most seeds, leaving the “hull” behind. Therefore, the bird never properly ingests the good nutrient coating on the outside of the seed. Macaws need a good quality pellet diet in order to thrive properly. As seed can only be used as part of the diet, it should be balanced out with other offerings. Pellet diets (available at Pet Supplies Plus) have been carefully formulated to meet the specific needs of the pet bird, therefore properly meeting the majority of the dietary needs of your bird. Macaw parrots also eat more nuts than other parrots. Choose a variety of nuts to give your bird each day, but don’t overdo it (only 3-4 a day) as nuts are very fatty. Your bird should also be offered fresh vegetables (especially leafy greens), fruit and grain daily. Please see our sheet that outlines the fresh foods your pet will appreciate. Never feed your parrot chocolate, sugar, fried foods, avocado, or junk food. NOTE: Be sure to remove any fresh foods that have not been eaten within a 24-hour period.
The only supplement that should be necessary if you are feeding your parrot correctly is calcium. Calcium can usually be offered in the form of a cuttlebone or calcium treat that attaches to the inside of your bird’s cage. If you notice that your bird does not touch his cuttlebone or calcium treat, a powdered supplement such as packaged oyster shell can be added directly to your pet’s food. Follow the directions on the supplement package. Also make sure your pet is getting a good intake of vitamin A in the form of red and orange fruits and vegetables.
- For optimal physiologic use of the calcium you are giving your bird, the bird should be exposed to UVB light for at least 3-4 hours a day (or more or less depending on the species). Please see our UVB Lighting for Companion Birds and Reptiles handout for further information about UVB light.
Fresh water must be available to your parrot at all times. Because your pet will often bathe in his water, it must be checked and changed several times a day. It is recommended that the bowl be wiped clean with a paper towel at every change to prevent a slimy film from collecting on the inside of the bowl. This ‘slime’ will harbor bacteria, which can be dangerous for your bird. Thoroughly wash the bowl with a mild dishwashing detergent and water at least once a day.
All water given to birds for drinking, as well as water used for misting, soaking or bathing must be 100% free of chlorine and heavy metals. (Not all home water filtration systems remove 100% of the chlorine and heavy metals from tap water). We recommend that you use unflavored bottled drinking water or bottled natural spring water; never use untreated tap water. If tap water is used, you should treat it with a de-chlorinating treatment. Do not use distilled water, which can cause severe medical problems, since it lacks minerals that are essential to important body functions.
HOUSING & ENVIRONMENT:
Parrots need a clean, warm, mentally stimulating environment. A large, wrought iron, powder coated parrot cage, free of rust and chips, is the best home for a pet macaw.
Mini macaws - Cage size - 36” x 36” x 24”
Bar spacing - between 5/8 and &190; inches
Large macaws - Cage size - 60” x 60” x 48”
Bar spacing - about 1”
If the bars are too far apart, your crafty bird is very likely to try to squeeze through them and then get stuck. The cage should be placed in a family centered room where the bird(s) will feel a part of the “flock”; however the back of the cage should be positioned against a wall to provide security. Your parrot will feel threatened and nervous if it is in direct traffic. Avoid drafty areas and any placement that will get too much direct sun for any portion of the day. If your bird spends time out of his cage, make sure that any ceiling fans are off while he is out. Do not place your bird’s cage in the kitchen, as cooking fumes and even a small amount of smoke can be fatal. Average room temperature will be fine for your bird, not to exceed 80 degrees. Be careful of drafts from air conditioning, especially when bathing and misting. Perches of varying materials and types should be included in the cage. We recommend having at least three different types. Having different types will exercise the feet and prevent sores and foot related health issues. When it comes to wooden perches, manzanita wood is often the only wood that can withstand some macaw chewing. See the recommended supplies section. At least three clean bowls should be ready for use; one for fresh water, one for seed/pellets and one for fresh foods. Your bird may appreciate a cage cover for nighttime. The cover can block out any extraneous light and create a more secure sleeping place. Be careful not to use any fabrics that your bird might catch his claws or beak in, or that he might pull strings from and eat.
DO NOT USE SANDPAPER COVERED PERCHES OR FLOOR PAPER. THESE PRODUCTS ARE DANGEROUS AND CAN CAUSE SEVERE DAMAGE TO YOUR BIRD’S FEET.
ALSO, DO NOT USE “BIRD DISKS” or “MITE DISKS”. THESE ARE NOT EFFECTIVE AND MAY HARM YOUR BIRD. SEE YOUR AVIAN VETERINARIAN IF YOU SUSPECT PARASITES.
DO NOT USE BIRD GRAVEL. BIRD GRAVEL IS USED FOR BIRDS WHO DO NOT CRACK THE HULL OR SHELL OF THE SEEDS THEY EAT. IT IS MEANT TO GRIND THE SEEDS IN THE CROP OF THE BIRD. DOVES AND PIGEONS CAN BE GIVEN BIRD GRAVEL, BUT CANARIES, PARAKEETS, AND ALL SPECIES OF PARROT WILL CRUSH THE SEED OR NUTS BEFORE INGESTING THEM AND THEREFORE DO NOT BENEFIT AT ALL FROM GRAVEL. GRAVEL CAN BE SERIOUSLY DANGEROUS FOR BIRDS OTHER THAN DOVES AND PIGEONS - IT CAUSES SEVERE IMPACTIONS, WHICH ARE OFTEN FATAL.
CORN COB BEDDING CAN QUICKLY BREED MOLD AND MILDEW, WHICH IS DANGEROUS TO YOUR BIRD. BIRDS CAN ALSO BECOME IMPACTED FROM SWALLOWING CORN COB BEDDING.
In the wild, parrots spend most of their day from morning until night foraging for their food. In our homes in a cage, their food is right at their beaks, no need to go hunting! Because of this, it is very easy for our pet birds to become bored and lazy. Since these animals are so intelligent, it is a horrible sentence to be banished to a cage with nothing to do. “Enrichment” is important because it will keep your bird?s mind busy! At least three different types of toys should be available to your bird in his cage at one time. Purchase macaw appropriate toys, and remember that parrot toys are meant to be destroyed! Parrots enjoy shiny, wooden, rope, foraging, and plastic toys. It is very important to purchase toys made specifically for parrots as they are much more likely to be safer in construction and material. Birds can be poisoned by dangerous metals, such as lead or zinc. They can also chew off small pieces of improperly manufactured “toys” and ingest them, which of course can lead to a variety of health problems. Be sure to include “foraging” toys. These types of toys mimic the work that a bird might do to find food in the wild. Hide treats in cardboard tubes and balled up paper or purchase plastic puzzle toys, which force your pet to work for his treats! Several types of “play places” are available for safe out-of-cage playtime. A portable one can allow your bird to spend time with you in different rooms (just avoid the kitchen!).
|A large, wrought iron, powder coated parrot cage, free of rust and chips. The cage should be at least 3’ x 2’ x 4’. Bar spacing no wider than ¾ of an inch.||A selection of at least 3 different perches, such as manzanita (can withstand macaw chewing), natural branch type, a therapeutic perch or a cement perch.||A good supply of packaged pellet diet, to be mixed with seed. As time goes on, you can slowly convert your bird to a majority of pellet and fresh food.|
|At least 3 different toys. Purchasing more than 3 can allow you to interchange them in your parrot’s cage to prevent boredom. Swings or rope toys.||Calcium supplement such as cuttlebone, calcium treat or oyster shell.||Treats such as nutriberries or avi-cakes. Avoid sugary treats like honey sticks and human junk food.|
|3 sturdy dishes. One for fresh water, one for pellet/seed mix, and one for fresh foods.||Misting bottle and/or birdbath.||A good species-specific book about your parrot.|
|Play gym or T-stand for out-of-cage use.||Nail clipper & styptic powder. NOTE! Never use styptic powder on your bird’s skin - ONLY nails!!||A bird safe cage cover. Be careful of using towels and blankets, which can catch bird nails and beaks in their threads or create too warm an environment inside.|
|Fluorescent UVB Bulb and housing.|
Your parrot’s cage should be checked daily for any dirt that is accessible to your bird. Feces and spoiling food should be wiped clean of perches, cups and cage bars consistently to prevent health problems. Cage paper (which should be under a floor grate to prevent access to droppings) can be changed every to every-other day. Check the metal parts & bars of your bird’s cage periodically for chipped paint and rust, which can cause serious health issues if your bird chews or swallows any flaked pieces.
The entire cage should be cleaned thoroughly at least once every month with: A mild dishwashing liquid in warm water (make a weak dilution), THEN Vinegar & water (1:8) OR bleach and warm water (1:32) Cage “furniture” should also be scrubbed clean with the same dilution.
RINSE OFF ALL SOAP AND BLEACH THOROUGHLY WITH PLAIN WATER BEFORE RE-INTRODUCING YOUR PET TO ITS ENCLOSURE!!
NEVER MIX VINEGAR AND BLEACH - IT CREATES A TOXIC SOLUTION
GROOMING & HYGIENE:
All birds should be gently misted with a water bottle dedicated to this use only. The spray should be room temperature and misty, sprayed up and over the bird to replicate a fine rain. NEVER spray the bird directly in the face. In addition to misting, a room temperature birdbath should be offered to your bird at least twice weekly. Monitor your bird while he is bathing, and remove the bath when he is finished. During misting and bathing procedures, make sure there are no drafts that may chill your bird when he is wet, which can cause respiratory issues. If your bird seems to stop grooming himself and becomes dirty and unkempt, contact your avian veterinarian. He may be ill.
Be sure to take your bird to your avian veterinarian for regular nail and wing trims.
IF PROBLEMS ARISE, CALL YOUR AVIAN VETERINARIAN IMMEDIATELY! It is also highly recommended to have your bird seen by an avian vet for a yearly exam to make sure your pet stays healthy. Birds hide illnesses well; yearly exams can catch small issues before they get worse.
- Fluffed feathers, missing patches of feathers, feathers being purposely plucked.
- Evidence that your bird has stopped grooming him/herself.
- Bird sitting still and low on perch with a puffed up appearance, drooping wings - may also stay at bottom of cage.
- Beak swelling or unusual marks on cere.
- Nasal discharge, eye discharge, wheezing or coughing.
- Any change in stools including color or consistency.
- Loss of appetite.
- Favoring of one foot, holding a wing differently, presence of any blood.