Photo by Joe Penniston
Macaws - Species Profile:
Origin: Forests of Central and South America
General descriptionMacaws have a very striking appearance: not only are they very large but also extremely colourful and bright (often called “winged rainbows”). The most recognizable features of the Macaw are a large beak (usually black), a long tail, and relatively hairless, light coloured facial patch. The Macaw's facial feathers are unique as a human fingerprint.
There are many Macaw species. The smallest Macaws are about the size of a pigeon while the largest can be 3 feet long and more. The most common Macaws are Blue and Gold Macaws, Scarlet Macaws, Hahns Macaws, Hyacinth Macaws (the largest in length and wingspan), and Green Wing Macaws (also known as the "Gentle Giants").
All Macaws species can live up to 50 years and even more. With a healthy diet, good training, frequent opportunities for physical exercises outside the cage and lots of attention, the owner will have a lifelong companion. Taking care of Macaws is far from being easy, it requires a lot of time and patience. In fact, the Macaw is one of the most demanding pet birds. Nonetheless, the close bond that can develop when Macaw owners take pains to understand them will be worth it.
TemperamentMacaws have a unique blend of intelligence, inquisitiveness and other traits that make them quite challenging pets. They are playful, social, active and quite exuberant. They can perform tricks if trained properly. They are also very affectionate and require a great deal of time and attention from their owners. The owners have to provide the Macaw with constant mental stimulation to satisfy its innate curiosity. Make sure you provide the bird with a wide variety of wooden toys or plain untreated chunks of wood to chew on. Hanging toys and toys to climb on are also a good choice, as long as they are safe. If a Macaw is bored, it is very likely to gnaw on various objects.
Frequent interaction, handling and love are what pet Macaws will thrive on. Without those, the bird will experience physical and mental suffering, which may result in various behaviour problems. Remember that all Macaw species have very powerful beaks: large Macaws are capable of destroying household furnishings and can potentially cause harm to children and adults.
While they are not very talkative, Macaws do tend to be awfully loud. Their voices can carry over long distances. This is why decisions regarding having a Macaw as a household pet should be given extra and careful thought.
Health and nutritionAlong with attention, Macaws require a great deal of care. The diet should consist of daily servings of fruits, vegetables and warm meals. Dietary supplements such as vitamins are quite important. The diet of Macaws in the wild consists of the yellow-orange flesh between the brown skin and the chunky sized nut of the palm fruits. This particular food has the consistency of a raw potato. Additional food choices include portions of pasta, cooked chicken, turkey or chicken thigh bones, fruit salad and cooked legumes. It's important to keep the water dishes fresh and clean to avoid bacteria build-up. This should be done daily.
Photo by Josh More
To keep themselves clean, Macaws need regular baths: 3 to 5 times in winter and 5 to 7 times in summer. If your bird wants to bathe more often, it is a good thing because it keeps the skin and plumage healthy. In captivity, there are several ways for a parrot to have a bath:
- An extra bowl for bathing inside the cage (hanging or at the bottom of the cage),
- Misting from a spray bottle,
- On a shower perch in a human shower (many birds like catching the mist off their owner's back),
Remember that different birds may have different water temperature preferences (hot, warm, cold), as well as different preferences on the bathing ways. Most Macaws enjoy natural bath rain outside, so if you have an outdoor aviary, it will be a perfect solution. Without proper hygiene, macaws may look filthy and bedraggled.
Macaw cage setup
Size, shape, materialBecause of their size and exuberant personality, most Macaws need very large and very strong cages. These can be pricey, but anything smaller or weaker won't meet the Macaw's needs. They are big creatures that need plenty of room to stretch their wings and play. If you get something cheap and weak, the Macaw's strong jaws will destroy it within months if not sooner. Smaller Macaw varieties can do well in cages designed for Amazon parrots. These are usually 24 x 36 x 48 inches. The larger varieties should have cages at least 36 x 48 x 60. However, if you're going to keep your birds inside the cage most of the day, they'll need even bigger cages.
It's recommended that you look for square or rectangular cages made of stainless steel – this material is best to withstand the significant strength of Macaw beaks for a long period of time. The recommended wire thickness is 3mm, while the bars should not be spaced more than 4 inches apart. The cage should also have a lock out of the reach of the birds. Bird-proof locks are also a good idea and a good investment.
InteriorThe cage should have at least two horizontal bars so the parrots can climb up and down. Perches are also necessary. They should be spaced well apart so the Macaws can fly or hop from one to the other without tripping over or trampling on their feathers. Three perches will be just fine. Make sure the perches are thick enough for the Macaw to sit on them without their claws turning inward. If you want to use branches from your own backyard, disinfect them by roasting in an oven at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, or soaking in a bleach solution.
PlacementDo not place the cage in the following areas:
- corridors and other high-traffic areas,
- noisy rooms,
- direct sunlight.
Macaws need 12 hours of sleep a day, and they should have absolute silence after 6 or 7 pm. Many parrot experts recommend placing one side of the cage against a wall to help Macaws feel more secure.
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