Macaws are intelligent, big, beautiful, brightly colored birds. They are also strong-willed, noisy, and sometimes territorial birds.
If you are looking for a quiet pet, you may be happier with a goldfish.
But if you have experience with pet birds and you are looking for the ultimate experience in keeping parrots, a macaw (or even two) may be the right choice for you.
What Is a Macaw, Exactly?
Macaws aren’t a single species of bird. They are a group of 17 species of birds in the Psittacidae family, the “true parrots.”
What makes a parrot a “true parrot” is a curved beak that is mobile slightly above the joint where it connects with the bird’s skull, and a generally upright position.
Like all parrots, macaws have a large cranial capacity, and their big brains make them highly intelligent birds.
Macaws are native to the tropics of the Americas: Mexico, Central America, and the northern reaches of South America.
There used to be macaws in the Caribbean. These exotic-looking birds have white patches on their faces, long tail feathers, and large beaks.
Macaws have feathers in bright, vibrant colors. There is a hybrid, the Catalina macaw, that has feathers in every color of the rainbow.
Macaws are dimorphic, which means that males and females have the same coloration.
Most macaws are highly social. They love to interact with people.
Macaws are big birds. There are a few miniature macaws, but most of these birds are big enough to need a lot of space.
And all macaws are long-lived. Charlie, who belonged to Britain’s World War II Prime Minister Winston Churchill, lived to be at least 114 years old. According to numerous reports, Prime Minister Churchill taught Charlie to shout curses at Adolf Hitler.
Because longevity and size are two particularly important characteristics of macaws, we will elaborate on them.
When you buy a macaw, you are making a long-term commitment to keeping a pet.
The average lifespan of macaws in the wild is 30 to 50 years. Both Blue-and-Yellow and Hyacinth macaws frequently live to be 60 years old as pets.
One thing every potential parrot parent needs to know is that their macaw can easily outlive them, and provisions to take care of them need to be part of your estate planning.
When we say that macaws are big birds, here is what we mean:
The smallest birds in this family, the mini-macaws grow up to 20 inches (50 cm) in length.
Military macaws are usually 21 inches (54 cm) long from head to tail, and the largest macaws, the Hyacinth macaws, grow up to 42 inches (107 cm).
What You Need to Know About Macaw Temperament
Macaws are playful. They are active. Their exuberant personalities are a match for their size.
They are affectionate, long-lived, loyal pets that make a unique companion that is likely to be with you most or all of your life.
However, a macaw’s temperament can make it a challenging pet.
Macaws need constant interaction with their people or with other birds of the same size. They don’t adapt well to moving around a lot. They need place stability.
Macaws that don’t get regular mental stimulation, or that suffer hormonal imbalances, or that undergo drastic changes in their environment, can become fussy and difficult.
They can become territorial and combative with cage mates, with other pets, and with you.
It is always best to start training macaws as soon as they hatch. Hand-fed macaws learn that humans bring them their food.
They can be taught not to nip or bite. Instead of screaming, they can learn to talk and sing. If you develop a bond with your bird, your macaw may even show a sense of humor and enjoy playing with you.
Macaws Are Noisy
Macaws are not a good pet for apartment dwellers, especially not for people who live in apartments with thin walls.
They are not a good choice for people who are sensitive to loud noises.
Any macaw can scream at will. You can teach them to sing and mimic your speech, but their rendition of human speech is not as clear as, say, parakeets.
If taking with your bird is important to you, choose a species with the best speaking ability: a Hahn’s macaw if you want a mini-macaw, or a Blue-and-Gold macaw if you want a larger bird.
Caring for Macaws Can Be Complicated
There is a lot to think about before you bring your macaw home.
Big birds need big cages
If you are buying planning to buy a macaw, you need to budget for a large, durable cage.
A mini-macaw will be happy in a cage designed for a large African parrot, 2 feet by 3 feet by 4 feet (60 cm by 90 cm by 1.2 m) tall.
Any of the larger species of macaws need cages at least 3 feet by 4 feet by 5 feet (90 cm by 1.2 m by 1.5 m) tall. These figures are for each macaw you keep in the cage.
The best materials for the cage are wrought iron and stainless steel. These metals are strong enough to stand up to this bird’s considerable beak strength.
Avoid brass, copper, and zinc, because they can be toxic to birds.
Even brass or copper has a protective coat, a macaw can bite through the protective coating to reach the poisonous metal beneath irt.
Macaws love toys
A bored macaw will become destructive of its cage, or combative with other animals, or even start pulling out its feathers. Macaws need toys to keep them occupied.
Plain chunks of wood become chew toys. Perches (at least two per bird) give your pet a chance to survey its domain.
Macaws love to tear up phone books and tissue boxes, which are at recyclable, and there is a wide range of durable toys at the pet store.
Macaws love treats
Pay attention to your bird’s favorite foods. When you observe that your bird really enjoys a particular food, you can use it for training as a treat.
When you first get your macaw, it may be skittish. You can help it overcome its anxiety by training it to let you pet its beak.
Don’t start petting your bird right away.
Carefully reach into the cage and slowly move your hand toward your macaw’s beak.
If your bird spreads its tail feathers, or stares at you intently, or lunges at you, move your hand out of the way and try again when it is calmer.
When your bird is finally comfortable with your petting its beak, give it a quick, gentle rub, and then reward it with a treat.
If you do this often enough, your macaw will realize that you are its protector and its friend.
Macaws can’t be kept in a cage all day
If you get a macaw, you need to plan on spending two to four hours a day with your bird outside its cage.
Before you get a bird, you need to have a bird-proof home.
This means you need to be able to turn off ceiling fans, and make sure they aren’t operational when your bird is flying around the room.
You need to protect your bird from burners on the stove, blenders, mixers, toasters, and vacuum cleaners.
You need to keep its cage clean with baking soda and vinegar, because most household cleansers will be toxic to it.
And you need to be sure that the space where you will exercise your bird is not open to the outside world (no open windows, and not your backyard!), so you don’t have to retrieve your macaw from the wild.
Macaws That Make Great Pets
If you have decided that you have the space in your home, you have the two to four hours a day your bird will need from you, and you can make a long-term commitment to keeping a macaw, terrific!
Here are three beautiful species of macaws to consider.
Catalina macaws catch your eye with their rainbow of colors, and win your heart with their sense of humor.
Catalina macaws almost always come from breeders. They are a first-generation cross between a Blue-and-Gold macaw and a Scarlet macaw. It is very rare to find them in the wild.
Blue-and-gold macaws have a reputation for being laid-back birds. They are good talkers.
Scarlet macaws are curious, active, and feisty. Cross the two and you have a friendly, active bird that loves talking with its humans.
Green-Wing macaws are smart enough to learn tricks.
They can master a vocabulary of about 15 words. They are exceptionally gentle parrots, as long as they get two hours of attention every day.
Otherwise, unfortunately, they pose a biting hazard for little fingers. Green-Wings scream when they are upset, and are not suitable for apartment living.
Scarlet macaws have eye-catching blue, gold, and red feathers.
They tend to become attached to a single human caretaker unless they are trained from a young age to interact with everyone in the household.
They love to spend time outside their cages; five hours a day is optimal.
You May Need a Permit to Buy a Macaw
Destruction of the rain forests and the pet trade have put most species of macaws on the Endangered Species List.
At least two species of macaws, the glaucous macaw and Spix’s macaw, are probably extinct. Blue-Throated, Red-Fronted, and Hyacinth macaws are protected species.
As a result, you may need a permit or a license to own a macaw.
Some macaws are listed in CITES, the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
This treaty requires most importers of macaws to get a license before transporting these birds internationally.
If you live in the United States, you may have to get an import permit from the Division of Management Authority. It takes about 60 days to get permission to bring a bird into the United States.
In Australia and the UK, you may need an Animal Movement License to transport a macaw from one location to another within your country.
But you can avoid these complications by buying your macaw from a licensed breeder.
You Shouldn’t Buy a Macaw Without Seeing It First
Macaws are a major investment.
Macaws may cost from $1,000 to $12,000 from specialized pet shops and reputable breeders.
You can find beautiful macaws on the Internet, but you don’t want to buy this kind of bird without seeing it first.
This gives you a chance to ask the breeder when it was hatched, what its health history is, and which foods it is accustomed to eating.
You don’t want your new pet to starve because it doesn’t recognize what you want to feed it as food!
You also only want to buy a macaw if it has a metal leg band.
This band is a strong indication that it is in the country legally, and was not brought into the country by a smuggler.
The band will also record the date the bird was hatched, the identifying number of its clutch, and an identifying number for its breeder.
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