a red Macaw flying

Macaws

Macaws are large and colorful birds, the largest of which can grow to over two feet tall and weigh up to three pounds. They are popular as pets in part because they are highly intelligent, able to mimic human speech with surprising skill. They also make ideal family pets. 

Macaws are very social and can bond well with several members of the household. They are very playful and highly energetic, so they need plenty of room to move around and roomy cages.  It’s important to provide the right kind of playthings for your macaw, since they are very mischievous and will seek out things to chew on and destroy.

The macaw is the largest, most colorful member of the parrot family, with the most recognized species being the blue and gold macaw. If you are looking for a bird that can provide many years of enjoyment, you will want to consider owning a macaw as a member of your family. 

These birds are known for their ability to mimic human speech. The quality of the bird’s voice is determined by the age of the bird, the diet, the way it is handled and the amount of time spent talking to it. Because of its size, this is clearly not a bird suitable for smaller children.

Information about Macaws

  • Average Length: 20 to 42 inches
  • Colors: Blue; Blue and Gold; Red: Cobalt-blue; and Green
  • Grooming Needs: Moderate
  • Good Pet: With early socialization and training, yes
  • Safe with Children: With training but not with young children
  • Good with Other Macaws: Yes
  • Good with Other Pets: No as their loud noise can scare other pets.
  • Suitable to live in an Apartment: No, they can be very loud which can be irritating for the neighbors.
  • Suitable for First-Time Pet Owners: No, they need a lot of attention.
  • Training: Moderately difficult
  • Exercise Needs: High
  • Weight Gain: Normal
  • Health Concerns: They tend to have diseases like Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD), Avian Bornaviral Ganglioneuritis (ABV), Constricted Toe Syndrome, Beak malocclusions, Psittacosis and Feather Plucking.
  • Allergies: None
  • Average Life Span: 30 to 50 years

Physical Appearance of Macaws

Macaws are the largest among the parrot species and can have a length of up to 42 inches. They have long tails that can measure up to half the length of their body. Their feathers come in a variety of colors that give them a vibrant appearance. These birds have large beaks with white or light color patches on their face. The female and male Macaws look similar which makes it difficult to visually identify their sex. 

Blue and Gold (Yellow) Macaws are the most common Macaws in the United States. They can measure between 33 to 42 inches in length. Blue and Gold Macaws have a bright yellow-colored chest and blue feathers on their body. These Macaws have green feathers above their face and a small patch of black feathers just below the beak. They have a partially naked face without feathers which turns pink when the parrot gets excited.

Scarlet Macaws are another popular variety of domesticated parrots. They are a little smaller than the Blue and Gold Macaws, measuring up to 35 inches. The birds have red color feathers on their body with a combination of bright blue, yellow and green color feathers on their wings. They have a black beak with a tan shade on the upper part of the beak.  

Both the Blue and Yellow and Scarlet Macaws have gray or black feet.

Temperament of Macaws

Macaws are friendly and active birds. They are also intelligent, playful and social. Macaws need a lot of attention. If you are a bird lover with time to spend with them they will be great pets. If they get bored they have a habit of screaming loudly to get attention. They are also stubborn but generally do not act aggressive. 

2 yellow and blue Macaws perched on a branch together

These birds are talkative and like to mimic human speech. Their words are not as clear as other parrots like the Parakeet. Among the Macaws, Blue and Gold Macaws are the best when it comes to mimicking human speech. The Macaws will whistle and sometimes even scream. Their screams can be very loud which can irritate some people. They will make the most sound during the evening, the time when they are most active. 

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Training Macaws

Macaws should be trained from a young age. Early training can help to reduce the screaming that they do. Training them requires you to build trust and be consistent. For the first few days, help them to get used to your voice and the cage. Do this by greeting them with the same word every time you enter the room and communicate with them. You can say words like “hello” or “hi.” 

The first step to training them is to have them climb on your hand. To get started with this, offer them treats with your hands from outside the cage. Once they start accepting the treats from your hands, you can move on to opening the cage. Repeat the same step by reaching inside the cage. Slowly the Macaw will build trust with you and climb on your hand. If after two weeks they still will not climb into your hand, you can try gently pushing them up onto your hand. Take them out of the cage and continue training them. 

The next step to training is to work on their speech and tricks. Start training them to speak by repeating the same word for a few days. Once they learn the word you can move on to the next word. After 2-3 words it will become easier for them to learn new words. They might not be quick learners like other parrots but being consistent will help. Macaws can also be trained to perform tricks like waving their wings or staying still with their wings open.

Train them in a room that has a table or perch on which they can sit. It’s best if there are no distractions in the training room like an open window or noise from a TV or radio. By minimizing distractions it will make training easier. The training sessions should be short, between 15 and 20 minutes and can be conducted twice a day. Reward them with treats and praise when they make progress.

Their Compatibility with Children

Their compatibility with children will depend on the way they have been raised. It can take some time to understand how well the birds can get along with children. While some Macaws and children can get along well, the large size of the birds can make it difficult for children to hold them correctly, especially if the bird likes to move around.

These birds have large and powerful beaks that can hurt your children if they cannot hold them well or the bird becomes frightened.. For this reason, young children should not be allowed to play with large-sized Macaws.

Older children can be trained on how to handle the parrots. Sometimes children can be overly affectionate and try to hug and kiss the birds frequently. This can irritate the Macaws. The Macaws will sometimes scream, which can be frightening to  your children. Children and Macaw should have adult supervision to make sure that there are no problems.

Best Habitat for Macaws

Macaws need a large bird cage to let them move around and exercise. The size of the cage should allow them to fully extend their wings without touching the edges. A large cage that is 4’L x 3’W x 5’T will be great for the Scarlet and Blue and Gold Macaws. The cage has to be strong to withstand the powerful beak of the Macaws. Stainless steel or wrought iron cage is recommended. These are very intelligent birds and can learn to open the doors of the cage, so a secure lock should be used.

a close up of a red Macaws face

Keep perches that are made from natural wood inside the cage. It will allow them to chew the perches without getting sick. The diameter of the perches should range between 1.5 to 2 inches. For substrate, aspen is a good option and so is wood-pellet or corn cob. The substrate should be less than 1 inch deep.

The Macaws are very loud and the location of the cage should be in a place so that the bird does not disturb the neighbors or family members. Some bird owners also like to keep the Macaws in a separate room which gives them a lot of space to move around freely. It is not required but can be a great option, especially if you have two or more Macaws. The room needs to have perches for the Macaws to climb and stand. There should not be any furniture, electrical cords or anything else inside the room that the birds can chew.

A parrot play stand or a large outside perch is also recommended to allow the Macaws to play when they are outside the cage. A play stand is a large free-standing perch for parrots with places to keep food and water bowls, hang toys and add swings. It helps to keep them entertained outside the cage.

Habitat Maintenance

The food dishes and the water bowl needs to be cleaned every day. All the toys and perches need to be washed once a month. Replace damaged or broken toys or perches with new ones when cleaning the cage. Clean the substrate once every week. A deep clean of the cage should be performed every six months.

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Remove all the habitat parts like toys, perches and swings from the cage to perform deep clean. Use a bird-friendly disinfectant to clean the cage. Make sure the cage and all its parts are fully dried before placing your bird back inside the cage.

The Attention a Macaw Needs

Macaws have high attention needs and need to be handled regularly. Single Macaws will bond strongly with their owners and will become needy and affectionate with them. They need a lot of interactions and playtime with their owners. Spending less time with them can result in aggressive and destructive behavior. They can resort to plucking their feathers and skin.

The Macaws have high exercise needs and should be allowed to play outside the cage for 2 to 3 hours. Parrot swings, bird ladders, ropes and wood toys are some of their favorite toys. Sometimes they may even hang upside down on their toes. Having a play stand with various toys for the Macaws will be a good option to keep them entertained for times when you are busy.

Health Issues

A Macaw that is fed properly and given enough attention will not usually get sick. Visible signs of a sick Macaw are

  • Ruffled plumage
  • Extreme mood changes
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sagging body
  • Drooping wings
  • Listlessness (lethargy)
  • Swollen eyelids
  • Difficult breathing
  • Excessive Saliva
  • Change in color of the feces

Common diseases found in Macaws are mentioned below.

Feather Plucking

Feather Plucking is a behavioral disorder where the birds will damage their own feathers, either through mutilation or pulling them off of their body. The disease is found in many species of parrots, including Macaws. The real cause of feather plucking can be:

  • Medical conditions like parasites, infectious disease and sickness
  • Environmental conditions that can cause itchiness or allergies 
  • Behavioral problems like boredom, fear, loneliness or jealousy.

Having several toys available and spending a lot of time with them can prevent the birds from feeling bored and developing feather plucking. If you still see your Macaw plucking their feathers take them to the vet for a check up.

Psittacosis (chlamydiosis) 

Psittacosis is also known as parrot fever, is a bacterial disease that can infect birds, humans and other animals. The symptoms of this disease vary based on the strain of the virus but generally includes:

  • Respiratory infections like runny nose, shortness of breath and difficulty in breathing
  • Diarrhea, 
  • Dehydration and excess urine
  • Eye discharge
  • Lethargy or weakness
  • Weight Loss

Macaws with any of the above symptoms should be immediately quarantined from other birds in the aviary and human contact with them should be kept to a minimum. Get them checked with a vet. They will perform the required tests to diagnose the disease and treat them. The virus can be excreted through the feces and nasal discharge of the birds. Contact with the birds can transmit the disease to humans or even other animals. If your bird is diagnosed with this disease make sure no one in your family has flu-like symptoms. If they do then immediate medical attention needs to be given to them. Psittacosis is treatable in humans and if treatment is delayed can become quite serious.

Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD)

It is a common disease in parrot species which results in complete loss of feathers of the body.  In severe cases it can cause their immune system to get compromised and even death. There is currently no cure for the disease and it can take up to 2 weeks for any symptoms to show. The disease can get transmitted to other birds by contact with feathers, feces, dust or other parts of infected parrots. PSFD is highly contagious and infected birds need to be isolated from others.

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Avian Bornaviral Ganglioneuritis (ABV)

ABV specifically targets the gastrointestinal and nervous system of the birds. Visible symptoms include loss of appetite, undigested food in feces, progressive weight loss, depression, weakness and ataxia (loss of control of bodily movements). Sometimes head tremors and seizures can also occur with infected birds. 

a green Macaw

No one condition can positively identify that a bird has ABV. Physical examination and blood sample testing are required to diagnose ABV. The disease currently has no cure. There are supportive treatments like anti-inflammatory drugs, treatment of secondary diseases and feeding assistance available as the only possible remedies. Infected birds will have to be isolated to prevent the spread of infection to other birds.

Beak malocclusion 

Beak malocclusion or malformation happens in young Macaws when the upper and the lower beaks do not align properly. Lack of calcium in their diet and improper feeding techniques can cause this disease. In most cases, the vet can treat the disease if they spot it when the birds are young. If the beaks harden then it can be difficult to treat. 

Constricted Toe Syndrome

Constricted Toe Syndrome is a common disease in young Macaws. It results in swollen or bleeding of one or both the toes. It is difficult to know the reason for most cases, but in some cases it is because of a low or high humidity environment. In most cases, medication and ointment prescribed by the vet will help to reduce or eliminate the disease. Sometimes surgery may be required to remove skin constriction.

Bathing and Cleaning

Bathing the Macaws will help to keep their skin and feathers clean. It is generally recommended to bathe them once a week but it will vary based on the individual Macaws. Some may enjoy bathing more often than others. If you find your Macaw does not enjoy getting wet very often, you may bathe them a little less frequently.

To bathe them, use a tub that is big enough for them and fill it with 2 to 3 inches of water. It doesn’t seem like much water, but that will let them splash in the tub. Most Macaws will jump straight into the tub but there might be some who will be a little resistant. Macaws like to splash and you should keep this in mind while selecting a place to bathe them. A handheld shower attachment can also be used to bathe them. Use lukewarm water to bathe them. Soap should not be used to bathe them as it can remove the natural oils from their feathers.

It is not necessary to wipe them down with a towel after bathing them. They just need a little time in a warm room or area until their feathers are completely dry.

a red Macaw flying
bird seed

Feeding Macaws

Macaws eat a variety of plants, seeds, fruits and nuts in the wild. Domesticated Macaws should be fed a pellet food along with vegetables and fruits. Pellets have the nutrients the parrot needs and will not require you to give them additional calcium and vitamin supplements.

Pellets should make up roughly 50 percent of their diet. Nuts and seeds should consist of only 10 percent as they are high in fat content. Their powerful beaks are good at cracking nuts and nuts should be fed to them every day. 

The other 40 percent of their diet should include a variety of fruits and vegetables. Fruits like apples, pears, plums, cherries, grapes, bananas, oranges, mangos and papayas can be fed to them. For vegetables, you can give them carrots, sweet potatoes, zucchini and cucumbers.

A healthy Macaw will need to be fed food that is equal to 10 to 15 percent of their body weight. For a 2 pound bird, the daily food requirements are 45 – 65g of pellets, 9 – 15g of seed with 36 – 50g of fruits and vegetables. They need to be fed twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. Any uneaten fruits and vegetables need to be removed after 2 to 3 hours.

You can also feed them human food like pasta, applesauce and cereals. Make sure you do not feed them avocado fruits or foods that contain caffeine, salt, sugar or chocolate. 

Make sure that your Macaws have clean water to drink every day.

Related Questions:

Are Macaws endangered?

Yes, most of the Macaw species are endangered and at least 5 are already extinct in the wild. The reason includes hunting, deforestation and illegal trapping for the pet trade. You should always ask your breeder about the history of the Macaw you are planning to buy to make sure they have not been captured from the wild. Many of the species are endangered in the wild but thanks to captive breeding they are available as pets.

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