The Large Macaw FAQ
Jodi Giannini

There is probably no other tropical bird so "tropical" as a macaw. Whether we see them on travelogues, tropical shirts or airline commericials (United airlines used a piano-playing Blue and Gold), we immediately think of lush, exotic, and far-away places. But why go far away? A macaw, aside from being colorful, can also be a loyal, loving, (if somewhat raucous) lifelong companion.

Most of the macaw species tend to be five things, big and loud, and loud and big, and demanding. Even the "mini-macaws" can be loud and demanding. They are smart birds, and need attention and toys to keep them busy. The macaws are also vigorous chewers. Keep this in mind if you have heirloom furniture or small children. (I'm kidding!) But I am serious about the furniture. Chewing is the macaw's hobby.

Aquiring a baby macaw is the best bet, although a number of breeders whom I talked to suggested getting a weaned baby, especially if you've never hand-fed before. But this depends on your gumption. I know of some people whose very first bird was a still-feeding macaw. Breeders are generally the safest course, because they have dealt with the birds from hatchdate on. They will also usually offer a health guarantee, advice, and help if you have problems.

The macaws most commonly available as pets (in order) are:
Ara ararauna Blue and Gold Macaw, Blue and Yellow Macaw 32-34 inches
Forehead and front top of crown is an emerald green, which blends into a bright blue for the rest of the head. The throat has a black "beard" and the rest of the underside of the bird is a bright, saffron yellow. The cheeks of the bird are bare (as are the cheeks of most macaws) with black stripes of tiny feathers. Primaries are a dark, almost royal blue, the tail coverts a light electric blue, and the bill is black, the feet dark grey. Babies have dark eyes, while adult eyes are an ice-blue.

This is the most available macaw. They are adaptable, and enjoy being in social situations. Blue and Golds are innately curious, seemingly more so than other macaws. They readily become adept at performing tricks, and seem to love doing so. Cost:$900-1400

Ara Macao Scarlet Macaw, Red and Yellow Macaw 35-36 inches
A vivid scarlet, with yellow on upper wings, blending into blue. The rump of the bird is a bright light blue. The tail is a deep shade of blue mixed in with red. Horn upper and black lower bill, greyish feet. The bare facial patch lacks feather stripes, and is a pinkish white.

The Scarlet seems to be a particularly sensitive macaw, and if mistreated while young can grow up to be beligerent and prone to biting. They tend, as a species, to be more aggresive than the other macaws, and do not tolerate other birds, pets or children well. But if raised in a caring, disicplined manner, it can absolutely the most adoring pet ever. And of course, no definition is ever absolute. Behavior, in a great part, has a lot to do with the individual. Cost:$1200-1600

Ara chloroptera Greenwing Macaw, Maroon Macaw, Red and Green Macaw, Red and Blue Macaw 35 inches
Deep shade of blood red, bare cheeks with lines of tiny red feathers. Upper wings a rich hue of green, which merge into a rich dark blue. The Greenwing is often confused with the Scarlet macaw, but the Greenwing has no yellow on it's wing and has facial feathering, whereas the Scarlet has yellow on it's wings and lacks the facial feather stripes. The Greenwing has a horn-colored upper bill and a black lower one. The feet are a medium grey color.

Next to the Buffon's and the Hyacinth, this is one of the biggest macaws. Even though the calls of the bird are horrendously loud, the Greenwing is not given to prolonged bouts of screaming, it is actually a somewhat quiet macaw. Greenwings are very intelligent and learn quickly, often managing to escape from locked cages. Cost:$1300-1800

Ara militaris Military Macaw 32 - 33 inches
Like it's name implies, the overall color of the Miltary Macaw is an army or olive green. It does have a deep red tuft of feathers on it's forehead, behind the cere of the beak, which is black It has a reddish white cheek patch with tiny black feathers (like a Blue and Gold Macaw) and the primary feathers of the wings are a deep bluish-red. The tail feathers are a brown-red with yellow underneath.

Three races of the bird appear: Ara militaris mexicana is from Mexico; Ara militaris militaris comes from South America; Ara militaris boliviana comes from the tropical parts of Bolivia, and ranges to the Argentine border.

Not as colorful as the other macaws, the military is rather unappreciated, since it makes just as much a fine pet as any other macaw. It is about the same size as a Scarlet, but lacks the very long tail of the Scarlet. Military Macaws seem to enjoy being underfoot and/or in the way. Despite the lack of typical macaw coloring, the Military has fine talking skills and has a pleasant dispostion. Cost:$800-1000

Ara Rubrogenys Red Fronted Macaw, Red Crown or Crowned Macaw 24-25 inches
This macaw mostly green in color, with as it's name implies, a red-fronted forehead. It only has a little bare patch of skin around the eyes, and this is also reddish in color. The upper wing is has orangey-yellow "epaulets" and medium-blue primaries. The rest of the wing is green. The top of the tail is also green, with the undersides being yellow. Reddish thighs. The beak is black, and the feet grey. It's coloration is subtle, but lovely in it's own way.

Red Fronts probably have the least offensive calls of the larger macaws, lacking the harsh screechy quality. They are sweet and amiable, but since they aren't relatively common yet, smuggling can still be a problem, so check your sources carefully. Despite all this, domestic-bred birds can usually be found.

Since these birds can weigh up to half the amount of the large macaws, this makes them good, strong fliers, and they may require a different clip pattern than larger birds. They are also pretty quick on the ground as well, so you have to be very careful that they don't get into mischief. Cost:$900-1200

Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus Hyacinthine or Hyacinth Macaw 39 - 40 inches
The Hyacinth Macaw is the Rolls-Royce of Parrots. The statement "WOW!" pretty much sums up this huge, beautiful bird. The Hyacinth Macaw has a massive black beak and feet, and is covered head to foot in rich and deep Hyacinth blue, with the only other colors on the bird being a rich, vibrant yellow eye ring and a cresent shaped patch of skin around the lower mandible. The yellow cresent gives the interesting illusion that the bird is smiling.

Besides their gigantic size, another thing should be noted about Hyacinths, they are specialized feeders. Hyacinths eat the nuts of the Scheelea Palm and the Atalea Palm in the wild. In captivity, they are fed macadamia, Brazil, filbert, walnut, almond, pecan, peanuts and coconuts, because they do require more fat and carbohydrates and less protein than other parrots. The diet is supplemented with fruits, vegetables and pellets. These birds eat a LOT. As an interesting aside, it takes nearly four months to wean a baby Hyacinth.

Hyacinths have a wingspan reaching nearly four feet. This needs to be taken into consideration when planning for a cage. They need a great deal of space. As far as dispostion goes, generally, these birds are sweet, gentle, affectionate and even-tempered.

Think you'd love to have one? The average prices seem to be about $8,000 with the low end being $6,500 and the high end being $12,000.

A Word About Hybrids:
There are two somewhat "commonly" seen hybrids, the Catalina and the Harlequin Macaw. The Catalina is a hybird between a Blue and Gold and a Scarlet Macaw. The Harlequin Macaw is a cross between a Blue and Gold and a Greenwing Macaw.

Since macaws do not hybridize in the wild, I myself wouldn't buy one. Please note, that I am not preaching against those people who would buy one, or do own one (they are lovely birds, sometimes breathtakingly so). I feel that macaws are lovely enough in their natural state, and need no interference from man. Besides, and Heaven Forbid, should there come a day when there is no Rainforest left and no macaws, the only way to preserve the species would be through captive breeding. And to breed true, you need true bloodlines. A hybird macaw could actually look like a normal Scarlet, Greenwing, or Blue and Gold, but not have the same, pure genectic code. Although people say "Well, it's a pet...I would never breed it" unforeseen circumstances do arise, and things happen that we could not foresee or cannot control.

If you were wondering about cost, the local bird store here in Maryland has a Harlequin and a Catalina. Both are more expensive then a "normal" Greenwing. This may not always be the case, but I would not encourage the purchase of a hybrid.

Endangered Macaws:
At this point in time, the only species not endangered in the wild is the Blue and Gold Macaw. Macaws are in trouble for a number of reasons, but mostly due to deforestation. Macaws nest high up in dead trees, into which they gnaw a nesting hole. They need a great deal of space from other pairs of macaws as well. With the removal of trees from the forests, the competition for nesting sites becomes very great, and crowded conditons occur. With many of the high nesting sites gone, some macaws roost lower, and the babies are then subject to predation by animals which would not normally be able to get to the babies. Macaws in the wild do not have a high reproductive rate, because of the time it takes to raise a baby. The loss of one baby really has an impact. Hyacinth Macaws have run into trouble because they are specialized feeders, and the palm trees which they feed on are being destroyed. Scarlet Macaws and Red Fronted Macaws are also on the endangered list. Some macaws are nearly extinct. The Spix's Macaw has only seven surviving in captivity, with one wild bird left. Many macaws are on the CITES appendix I, which means no LEGAL exportation of the bird may occur at all. Please be aware of this, and make sure you have a domestic baby, because if it's not, it's very likely smuggled. Smuggling is a problem with the Red-Fronted Macaw.

About the Cost Guide:
These prices are merely for a rough idea, because the cost often varies drastically depending on where you are in the states. Here in Maryland, where I live, everything tends to be on the expensive side, including birds.

Well, they're not quiet, and they're not pretty...Macaws are incredible shriekers, screamers, and callers. As mentioned before, Greenwings are the least prone to "Screech Attacks". Red Fronted Macaws have the most "musical" calls of the group. Vocalization depends entirely on the personality of the individual bird. They also make decent talkers as they have clear articulation, but sound high and nasal when speaking.

Macaws are curious and intelligent. They love puzzles, and will often unpuzzle themselves right out of a locked cage. Give them interlocking toys, "parrot puzzle" toys--toys with a nut or something that has to be extracted, anything which may confound them for at least an hour or two. Give them lots of chew toys. UNTREATED lumber cut into chunks are great, and you can "dye" the pieces by soaking them in Kool-Aid (sans sugar). Macaws love acrobatics and appreciate a swing or a rope to twirl on. Things to climb on are dandy, too. It seems that most macaws like the TV as well. Many enjoy a bath. If you have the time and ambition, you can teach a macaw to eat with a spoon, and do other various tricks.

You need the biggest cage you can get a hold of. The minimum size would be the so-called "macaw size cages" which are usually 36 inches wide, 24 inches deep and 60 inches tall (3 feet by 2 feet by 5 feet). Keep in mind that you can never have too large a cage. The main FAQ lists some sources for cages.

If given a variety of foods when young, a macaw will have a rather eclectic diet, eating everything in sight (including furniture and small children, as I mentioned earlier). In all seriousness, though, provide your macaw with a well-rounded diet, and plenty of opportunity to try new things. Start with your basic pelleted diet formulated for macaws, and supplement it with anything healthy for you such as cooked pasta, lots of fresh fruit and veggies, the occasional chicken thigh bone (they love to pick out the marrow), some nuts, some seeds, hot peppers, cooked beans. Macaws truly love fruit, so make an effort to give them some fresh every day. Provide a cuttlebone and a mineral block.

Finding a breeder:
BirdTalk Magazine is a good source, but also rely on friend's recommendations. You can ask a veterinarian for help, too. Join a bird club to meet other fanciers, owners and breeders. And try rec.pets.birds--someone usually can (and will) offer help and information.

Books and Other Miscellany:
Get a general bird care book to have around (see Rec.Pets.Birds FAQ "Books")

I myself love The Complete Book of Macaws by Rosemary Lowe. It's published by Barron's and is simply excellent. Rosemary Lowe is well-known in the field of aviculture, she runs Loro Parque in Tenerife--a famous parrot "reserve".

Or how about joining:
The Macaw Society of America for owners, breeders and anyone interested in macaws. For information, send a self-addressed stamped business-size envelope to:

Macaw Society of America
P.O. Box 90037
Burton, MI, 48509-0037

faq completed 10/15/93 last revision 10/25/93
thanks to all readers
this faq is dedicated to nietzsche, a blue and gold macaw

Comments or Suggestions should go to the current maintainers of the FAQ files:

Kathryn A. Smith
Damian Bates

Search for a keyword

This FAQ is by no means meant to replace the many wonderful and informative books, breeders, magazines, and veterinarians that are out there.

Last Revised: Sunday, 20-Jul-2008 08:28:27 MDT ( Damian )