Macaws in captivity are notoriously picky eaters.
They will sort through a bowl of birdseed chosen to provide balanced nutrients, and chow down on just peanuts and sunflower seeds.
Macaws find high-fat seeds tasty, but when they focus on their version of “junk food”, they can become deficient in calcium and vitamin A.
In the wild, macaws eat a variety of seeds, fruits, and leaf buds from dozens of different plants.
Seeds are like candy to macaws, so to keep your bird healthy, you will need to make sure it does not eat an all-seed diet.
Pellets Are the Ideal Diet for Macaws
Avian veterinarians usually recommend feeding pellets for 75 to 80 percent of a macaw’s daily diet.
By “pellets,” we don’t mean the indigestible bits of a bird’s diet like bark, feather, bone, and husks that some birds will cough up after eating, but instead, we are referring to the preformed nutritional pellets you can buy at a pet supply store.
Pellets are made by combining seeds, fruit, vegetables, and other plant foods in the right ratio to provide optimal amounts of fat, protein, and carbohydrate, along with the minimum daily requirements of vitamins and minerals.
There’s no waste and nothing to clean up after your bird eats a meal of pellets—provided you have weaned your macaw off an all-seed or mostly-seed diet.
What to Do If Your Macaw Is a Seed-Aholic
Macaws don’t eat anything by accident. You won’t fool them by mixing healthy nutritional pellets with their regular diet of seeds.
They will just pick through the mixture, eating the seeds, and leaving the pellets for you to throw away.
Over a period of six to eight weeks, you can train your macaw to eat pellets by offering them in a separate dish.
Your bird will continue to eat the seeds it is used to. It will eventually try a pellet, and decide that pellets are food, too.
It is very important to give your bird about two months to get used to eating pellets.
If you suddenly stop feeding your bird seeds and offer just pellets, it won’t realize they are food, and it may starve.
Macaws Benefit from a Variety of Vegetables and Fruit
Birds benefit from dark green, orange, yellow, purple, and red fruits, and vegetables in a way that surprises most owners:
Colorful plant foods provide the pigments macaws need for red feathers!
Colorful fruits and vegetables are rich in compounds that the human body can turn into vitamin A, such as beta-carotene, gamma-carotene, cryptoxanthin, lutein, and lycopene.
Macaws use these compounds to make a group of chemicals called psittacofulvins to give their feathers bright colors.
But macaws do not necessarily need fruits and vegetables to stay healthy.
Unlike people, birds do not turn beta-carotene, gamma-carotene, cryptoxanthin, lutein, and lycopene into vitamin A.
Instead, they get their vitamin A from the tiny, almost microscopic insects they consume when they eat seeds.
Your macaw can survive without fruit and vegetables. But it won’t be as happy, and its colors won’t be as bright.
When It Comes to Feeding Vegetables, Treat Your Macaw Like a Small Child
The same way that macaws will pick out the seeds they like from seed mix, they will fill up on just one vegetable or just one fruit when you offer them a variety.
Increase the nutrition in your bird’s diet by encouraging them to eat a variety of plant foods.
When you see your bird loading up on, say, carrot sticks, leave carrots out the mix next time.
Encourage your bird to eat a variety of healthy plant foods.
Try feeding your macaw apple slices (you don’t need to peel them), asparagus, bok choy, cherries (without the pits), bananas (peels are OK), carrot sticks, cantaloupe slices, dandelion greens, lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, beet greens, cucumbers (but not pickles), grapes, radishes, orange slices, grapefruit wedges, dates, raisins, pitted prunes, mango, papaya, sweet potato, white potato (but not the peel, especially if it has turned green), carrot tops, mung bean sprouts, and/or berries.
Two or three selections a day is enough.
Can Macaws Eat Human Food?
With a few important exceptions, macaws can eat any food that people can eat.
It is OK to feed them a small amount of cooked meat, fish, cheese, yogurt, or vegetables.
You shouldn’t give them fried foods, anything with sorbitol or xylitol, sugar, candy, ice cream, soft drinks, alcohol, avocados, or chocolate.
Also read: 10 Human Foods Pet Birds Can Eat
Don’t Forget the Water
Macaws need fresh, clean water at all times.
Provide water for drinking in a container that your bird does not use for bathing.
Summing Up How to Feed Your Macaw
The most important things to remember about feeding your macaw are:
- Keep track of how much your macaw eats every day. Picky eaters can become malnourished and get sick.
- Change your macaw’s water every day.
- Try to train your bird to eat mostly pellets, but offer fresh food and a few seeds every day.
- Offer different kinds of food (seeds, pellets, fruit and vegetables) in different dishes. This way you will know which foods your bird is eating.
- Clean all food and water dishes every day.
- When training a finicky eater, be patient. Your bird will eventually try the healthy foods you put out.
Frequently Asked Questions About Feeding Macaws
What equipment do I need for feeding macaws?
If you are feeding a chick, you will need a pipette or a dropper.
If you are feeding an older chick by hand, you will need a syringe or a spoon. Adult macaws need the same bowls as other parrots.
What do I feed baby macaws?
For new hatchlings that need to be fed with a spoon, call your vet for advice.
There are commercial products to which you add water before giving them to your bird.
Fledgling macaws can eat seeds, tiny slivers of vegetables, nuts that have already been cracked, and small slices of fruit.
Remember, birds don’t put food directly into their stomachs. They store food in their crop before digesting it. And they need to be warm to eat safely.
What do I feed an injured macaw?
Injured macaws can be fed moistened dog or cat food, minced hard-boiled eggs, and pellets.
Be sure to give them water as well as food.
What should I not feed a macaw?
Macaws react badly to avocados, chocolate, fried foods, sugary foods, and cannabis edibles. Do not give them alcohol.
How often do macaws eat?
Macaws have a physiological need to eat at least once a day.
But because mealtime is a good time to bond with your bird, feeding your macaw two or even three times a day is a good idea.
What is the best schedule for macaw feeding?
Giving your macaw a healthy breakfast ensures it will have energy all day. Macaws naturally feed during daytime hours, not at night.
How much does it cost to feed a macaw?
Feeding a macaw will cost US $50 to US $100 a month.
Macaws need a more varied diet than most other birds, and their food is more expensive.
Can macaws eat dog food?
Moistened dog food is OK for macaws. Birds do well on the cheaper brands of dog food that contain lots of grain.
No macaw, however, should be just dog food.
Dog or cat food is acceptable for emergencies, but your macaw;s diet should focus on pellets, with some supplemental vegetables, fruits, seeds, and cracked nuts.
Does my macaw need a different diet when laying eggs?
Macaws need more calcium in their diet before and after laying eggs. You can give them cuttlebone or ground eggshells as a calcium source.
Calcium additives to their drinking water will not usually be enough when females are laying.
Do macaws need a special diet when they are molting?
Feed your macaw extra protein when it is molting.
It uses the protein in high-protein pellets, dried mealworms, or meaty table scraps to make keratin for new feathers.
This is also a good time to give your macaw a selection of colorful vegetables that provide some of the pigments for growing colorful feathers.
Do macaws need grit?
Veterinarians used to think that birds needed grit to break down the seeds they swallow whole and store in their crop.
Now the consensus opinion among veterinarians is that birds do not need the grit to digest their food.
Are “vitaminized” sunflower seeds better for my macaw?
“Vitaminized” sunflower seeds are sprayed with soluble vitamins and allowed to dry.
Since the vitamins are on the shell, which the macaw does not eat, they don’t offer your bird any benefits.
Can macaws eat mealworms?
Like almost any other pet bird, macaws will gobble up dried mealworms.
They will also eat dried and live crickets and flies, in addition to their pellets, seeds, vegetables, fruit, and cracked nuts.
(From Australia) What should I put out for wild macaws?
If you are fortunate enough to live in an area where macaws roam wild, you can attract them to your backyard with fruit and nuts.
Macaws enjoy almonds and peanuts in the shell, as well as any kind of fresh fruit.
Be aware that they will drop shells and uneaten fruit on your lawn, but picking up after them is a small price for the color and entertainment they provide.
Since parrots are bigger than most other backyard birds, consider buying a parrot feeder, large enough for them to perch and enjoy their food.
Or put out food in a large dish, big enough to accommodate two birds at the same time.
Hang fruit from your balcony, and don’t forget to give your birds a source of water.
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