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Are You Macaw Enough?

Thinking about a pet macaw? This dream parrot takes a heavy dose of reality, so read about everything you need to know about macaws.

By Kashmir Csaky

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The crowd roars with delight as two scarlet macaws race across the open sky.Their incredible beauty mesmerizes the spectators. Then the parrots amaze the crowd with their many tricks and cute repartee. Some of the audience leave merely entertained. For others, however, the sparkle of new love is in their eyes as they exit the show — they are falling madly in love with macaws. In fact, they might even be thinking about adding a macaw to their family. Although sincere and enthusiastic, are they able to successfully share their lives with a macaw? 

Blue-and-gold macaw
Macaws, such as this blue-and-gold macaw, are large parrots and need larger bird cages and bird toys. 

Well-trained macaws in a show astound us with their endearing behavior, beauty and elegance. We know we want one or must have one, just like the one in the show. However, we might fail to recognize that the birds’ trainer has dedicated long periods of time to train these birds into the stars we see on stage. Buying a macaw does not ensure us a bird like the show bird. Even with a well-trained parrot, we must maintain that training or the bird will not behave as expected. 

One of the reasons that macaw owners enjoy large parrots is that they like a bird that is big enough to “pat on the head.” These people cannot relate to small birds or are afraid they will accidentally hurt a smaller bird. Macaws are bold parrots that come in a rainbow of colors, and one species or another will appeal to just about any bird lover. A macaw's flashy and gregarious nature attracts even those who are not bird lovers. This is more of a superficial, physical attraction, not a deep, lifetime commitment. Successful relationships require time and understanding. For the relationship with a bird to be a success, experience and preparation are necessary. 

How Dedicated Are You?
Macaws can be great pet birds for adults who have the time to dedicate to a very social bird. The ideal macaw companion enjoys physical interaction with birds and has a knack for training birds. Macaws require new learning experiences and mental challenges or they will become bored.

It’s easy to teach young macaws to entertain themselves for a reasonable amount of time. Older birds require a little more patience and dedication when working with them. All macaws need plenty of bird toys to destroy, as well as toys that provide foraging opportunities and are mentally stimulating. Continually supplying a macaw with bird toys can become expensive unless one is clever and can find ways to make toys using inexpensive materials.

Their great stature and massive, powerful beaks can make the large macaws appear very menacing. Macaws are not for the timid person who is leery of a big beak and fearful of bites. They are astute birds that learn to bite very quickly when someone nervously sticks a shaky hand in their face. Macaws are delightful extroverted birds that enjoy social interaction. Yet they will lose their friendly nature if we do not continually expose them to many people and new situations. The person responsible for the bird must ensure that the macaw receives proper continuos interaction, especially if there are children in the home.  

These powerful birds need well-built, large, roomy cages. Macaws can break welds on cages if the construction is poor. Cages built for cockatoos and smaller birds may not provide a macaw with ample space and protection. Even when macaws have very large cages, spending time outside of the cage is important. Stimulating gyms and play areas help keep a macaw happy. If possible the bird should have an outdoor aviary where it can spread its wings and expend any pent up energy. Exercise, clean air and sunshine help ensure good health and fewer behavioral problems.
 
Macaws are playful, messy and destructive. Jackson, one of my hyacinth macaws, has many nicknames. A few of them are Tarzan, Termite and Wrecking Ball. He destroys wood toys like a hoard of termites. He chews through perches like a buzz saw. He swings from the top of his cage while tossing food in every direction. The food sticks to the walls and falls on the floor; cleaning around him is a constant job. Macaws are not for people who must have a tidy home.

All macaws are capable of ear-shattering screams that can carry for miles. This ability to create screeching, thunderous sounds makes them unsuitable for apartment living or life with anyone with sensitive hearing. Do not expect to sleep late if you have macaws. They will wake you up at sunrise demanding that you feed them or play with them.

I personally feel that the joy a macaw can bring into your life is worth all the cleaning, noise and expense. However, it is a personal decision and one that you should make with great care. The entire family should agree and then the relationship can last a lifetime. 

Is A Macaw Right For You?

If you fit the following criteria then you might be the right person for a macaw.

  • You are an adult not suffering from an illness
  • You are willing commit to a long-term relationship
  • You do not have any pets that would be a danger to a macaw
  • You own a house with plenty of room for a macaw cage and gym
  • Your bird’s screaming will not disturb your neighbors
  • You have leisure time to dedicate to your bird
  • You have the time to teach your macaw basic commands
  • You have some experience with large macaws
  • You are financially secure
  • You keep a clean house but you are not fastidious

Before You Get A Macaw
If you find yourself falling in love with a macaw, get to know these birds before acquiring one for yourself. Call several breeders and tell them you would like to contact people who have purchased their babies. The owners can recount long and entertaining stories about their experience with their macaws.

Go to bird club meetings and talk to the members about their birds. Offer to baby-sit for their macaw or help clean cages to get a better understanding of the noise, mess, expense and time required to keep one of these breath-taking companions. You will get the chance to experience the joy of their sweet talking voices, their intelligence and playful nature. If any of the birds are fully-flighted, then you may be lucky enough to experience the exhilaration of having a bird fly to you.

The Macaw 8
There are eight species of large macaws that are commonly kept as pets. Each species has its own special characteristics and responsibilities. Anyone who chooses one of the rarer macaws should understand that they are keeping an endangered species. A fact to consider is that rarer macaws kept as pets may someday need to be bred to propagate the species.

Hyacinth Macaw
Hyacinths are the largest and the most expensive of all the macaws to purchase and keep. They are very strong and are capable of demolishing cages that challenge other macaws.

Hyacinths have a specialized diet that is rich in nuts. The best nuts to offer them in captivity are macadamia nuts. Hyacinths can be good talkers with a vocabulary of around 100 words. They are the most energetic of all the large macaws and they love to hop, swing and dance.

Hyacinths are rare birds, with around 5,000 left in the wild, and, coupled with the fact that they are difficult to breed in captivity, it thrusts a great responsibility on anyone who keeps them as pets or as breeders. Due to the profitable nature of selling hyacinths, it is important to buy from a reputable breeder or bird shop. Many captive hyacinths are under-sized and this is due to the difficulties that breeders encounter when trying to raise the babies.

Blue-and-Gold Macaw
It is no surprise that blue & golds are the most popular of all the large macaws. They are one of the most beautiful of all the psittacine birds. Playful and mischievous, they can be great companions. Blue & golds are prolific in captivity and currently not endangered. Since they are more common, some people ignore their pet potential. Yet blue-and-gold macaw are not only magnificent and good-humored, they are easy to train and are better pets for many people.

Blue-Throated Macaw
Blue-throated macaws are very similar in appearance to blue & golds and have often been mistaken for smaller versions of them. Unfortunately, this has resulted in the accidental hybridization of blue-throated macaws with blue-and-gold macaws.

While blue & golds are common, the blue throat is perhaps the rarest of all the large macaws kept as pets. There are only about 100 blue-throated macaws living in the wild. They are gaining in numbers in captivity, and their smaller size attracts many people who may be nervous about handling bigger birds. Blue-throated macaws are escape artists. If you have one or more of these birds, their cages must have secure locks. Examine and frequently check every possible avenue of escape.

Green-Winged Macaw
Green wings are one of the most popular of all the macaws. Their bright colors and loving personality attracts many admires. They can rival the hyacinth in size and strength, and they are often heavier than many hyacinths. A characteristic common to nearly every green-winged macaw is its love of food. These birds have enormous appetites and are seldom fussy eaters. They are intelligent and can quickly learn many tricks.

Scarlet Macaw
Scarlet macaws are the most misunderstood species of psittacine birds in the world. Due to their beauty, scarlet macaws are the birds most likely to fall victim to impulse buying. Experienced pet bird owners are sometimes fearful of them turning mean and regularly ignore these lovely creatures.

Although scarlets may be a little more spirited than other macaws, they are no meaner or more dangerous than any other large bird. They can have extensive vocabularies and are highly intelligent. I believe that scarlets are the most trainable of all the large macaws. I have trained three scarlet macaws three tricks each and only spent 15 minutes with each bird. I have never been able to do this with any other macaw species.

Military Macaw
Military macaws are declining in captivity, since very few aviculturists are breeding them. There is little demand for this perky, smart green macaw. Smaller and less colorful than its flashy cousins, the military macaw is often overlooked for a species with brighter plumage and grander size. Most people who are searching for a macaw are not looking for a green parrot. Military macaws are still very popular in bird shows, since they are easy to train and respond quickly to instruction.

Buffon’s or Great Green Macaw
Buffon’s macaws look very much like military macaws. They are much larger, about the size of a green-winged macaw. They are distinguished from the military, by their size, an overall lighter color, orange tail and a steel-gray eye ring. Although, these birds are large and rare, they have not enjoyed much popularity in the pet trade. Few aviculturists are attempting to breed them. Like the hyacinth and blue-throated macaws, Buffon’s are in dire need of preservation. 

Red-Fronted Macaw
Red-fronted macaws are the smallest of the large macaws, weighing around 600 grams. Their size attracts a different crowd than the other macaws, and they are gaining popularity. As red-fronted macaws mature, they shed their drabber green baby coloring for bright red-orange foreheads and shoulders. The underside of the wings are yellow, and these gorgeous green birds are nearly gaudy when they flash their wings. The change in color is amazing to watch, like Cinderella’s transformation.

For monthly information about pet birds and parrots, subscribe to BIRD TALK Magazine by clicking here.


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Are You Macaw Enough?

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zachary, san jose, CA
Posted: 6/20/2008 7:32:54 AM
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