When most people hear “macaw,” they think of a large bird with a big beak and an even bigger voice. A macaw is “a lot of bird,” for certain. But the mini macaws, a term used for the smaller macaws, are “a lot of bird” in a smaller package. Mini macaws make the perfect fit for macaw lovers who might not have the space for a hyacinth macaw. What the mini macaws lack in stature, they more than make up for in personality, intelligence and affection, as their owners will attest. Read on to find out more about these diminutive macaws.
The smaller macaws, like this yellow-collared macaw, are called "mini macaws."
Defining "Mini" Macaws
Mini macaws aren’t a sub-set or a species unto themselves; the term “mini” is used to distinguish them from their larger macaw cousins. In general, mini macaws are less than 20 inches in length. There are seven macaws in the category:
Two of the mini macaws are rarely kept as pets and are even difficult to find as pets in the United States: the red-bellied macaw (Orthopsittaca manilata) and the blue-headed macaw (Primolius couloni), also known as Coulon’s macaw. These two species are generally found in zoos and breeding programs. This article focuses on the four other mini macaws that are regularly kept as pet birds.
Red-Shouldered Macaws: Hahn's Macaws & Noble Macaws
The most commonly kept mini macaws are the closely-related Hahn’s (Ara nobilis nobilis) and noble macaws (Ara nobilis cumanensis). These red-shouldered macaw subspecies look quite similar, but can be distinguished by the noble macaw's horn-colored (light) beak and the Hahn’s macaw black or dark gray beak. These two macaws are easier to find than many of the other mini macaws, because they are easiest to breed and seem to be a fancier favorite because of their small size, between 12 and 14 inches in length.
The temperament of the Hahn’s macaw is similar to that of the larger macaws: it can be bossy, independent, charming and affectionate.
“Kiwi is exactly what we expected, except a little more chatty, which we like,” said Cheryl Rose, Vice President of the National Parrot Rescue and Preservation Foundation (NPRPF) in Texas. “She is a cuddly little girl and has bonded to both my husband and me. Kiwi loves to ask for a kiss, so I put her beak to my lips and make a smacking noise. She likes to cuddle under my chin or behind my ear during quiet times. She also wants to preen both of us constantly.” According to Rose, although Kiwi can be very independent, she can be relentless when she wants attention by begging and pacing around the cage. “It has been difficult to train myself not to give in to this behavior to extinguish it. This is something we work on all the time, and it boils down to being spoiled, I think.”
Being spoiled isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a Hahn's macaw. Anecdotes from owners show that the intelligence level of a Hahn’s macaw is about that of a 3-year-old child; the macaw can be loving one moment and a tantrum made of feathers the next.
“She learns very quickly,” said Teri Temme of California, of her Hahn’s macaw named Macow. “She is very nippy though, and I thought that would go away, but it hasn’t. For years, she only had eyes for my husband, and it has only been in the last few years that she will let me pet her.”
Both the Hahn’s macaw and the noble macaw are quite vocal birds, ranging from talking to loud squawking. This isn’t a retiring wallflower; this is a bird that lets you know of its presence.
“Morgan is a good talker, but will rarely talk to anyone but me or someone she knows very well,” said Allen Gregory of Virginia. “She loves to watch the TV show “COPS” and repeats things the police officers say on the show, like “Let me see some hands!” and “Get outta the car!” It’s very amusing. She also knows the show’s “Bad Boys” theme-song. I can’t speak for Hahn’s macaws in general, but Morgan is the most loving and entertaining bird I have ever known. She is also very intelligent and clever. And most of all, she is a wonderful companion.”
Temme said that her Hahn’s, named Macow, isn’t a great talker, but she’s a fantastic alarm. “Macow is a great ‘watch bird’ because she screams anytime something isn’t right in her world, which I do appreciate,” said Temme. “If she’s scared, her tone is different, so I know when to go running.”
Some Hahn’s owners claim that their birds are very high-energy, but others report having a more “chill” individual. Sometimes, a big part of a little bird’s personality has a lot to do with the household it lives in.
“Woody’s idea of a perfect evening is for me to lie down in bed and watch TV,” said Cliff Patterson, owner of The Baby Bird Farm in Illinois. “She’ll climb down into bed with me, go to the center of my chest and lift up the edge of my sheet. She’ll burrow down, then turn around and come back up and stop just below my chin. Soon I’ll hear the most beautiful little clucking, cooing and talking sounds coming from the middle of my chest, the sound of a secure, happy little bird beginning a contented evening of T-shirt destruction.”
Debbi De Baeke of California described her Hahn’s macaw, Sammi, as amazingly loving and always willing to please.
“She loves kissing and being kissed and snuggling, and she would be glued to me all day if I let her,” said De Baeke. “Don’t get me wrong, she is still a parrot, but nevertheless I have truly been blessed with her. People are always amazed when I tell them I get this much love from a bird!”
The noble macaw might be slightly calmer and retiring than the Hahn’s macaw, but only by a fraction. However, it is just as vocal and, fortunately, just as sweet.
“Pheobe is very responsive to my emotions,” said Zoe Schreiber of Feathered Follies in California of her 25-year-old noble macaw. “When I’m upset, he comes to comfort me. When everyone in the household is having a good day, he talks away and communicates with us by speaking, not yelling. Nobles tend to be very affectionate, wanting to cuddle all the time.”
Both the Hahn’s and the noble aren’t known for being picky birds in terms of food.
“Poki is a real champ about his meals,” said Dori Jacobson of Washington. “It’s surprising that he can put away as much food as he does in a day and that he’s accepting of many new foods — a real treat after my African greys who think all fruit is poison or evil.”
The Illiger's Macaw
The Illiger’s macaw (Ara maracana), also called the blue-winged macaw, is approximately 17 inches in length, and has the typical macaw personality as well: intelligent, comical, active, strong-willed and affectionate. The Illiger’s macaw is endangered in the wild and doesn’t breed as readily as its cousins, the Hahn’s macaws and the noble macaws, so it’s not exceptionally common as a pet, but many people do keep and enjoy the Illiger’s macaws.
“Jade has been a perfect apartment bird,” said Leigh Bradley of California about her Illiger’s macaw. “We’ve had her the whole time we’ve lived in this apartment and have had absolutely no complaints from the neighbors. She has her moments, though. Every time I get on the telephone she has to have a conversation, too. She also vocalizes in response to other vocalizations in the room: me, my husband, my kids, the other birds, the TV, whatever. The only actual words she ever says are “Step up.’”
The Illiger’s is just like other macaws in that it can run “hot and cold” — one moment it might want lots of snuggles, and the next it’s a willful beast that might bite to get its way. But that’s to be expected from such an intelligent and independent bird.
“Jade does fairly well on her own. She has a playstand on top of her cage so she’s out of her cage most of the day,” said Bradley. “She’s only in her cage for sleeping and when we leave the house. I talk to her throughout the day, give her a treat every so often and we have our cuddle time, but I’ve found she’s pretty independent. When she wants attention she’ll let the whole house know. But that doesn’t happen often.”
Sally Franckeiss of South Africa, said that her Illiger’s macaws, Frisby and Boomarang, definitely demand what they want, when they want it.
“When they want attention they actually call my husband by name, and they hang onto the side of the aviary waiting for him. When they decide they have enough of his company, they just disappear into their box as if to say ‘you can go now.’”
The Illiger’s can be very playful, too; a perk for owners who want an entertaining companion.
“Zoe’s most favorite pastime is playing hide-and-seek on the sofa,” said Georgia Hayes of Texas and a member of NPRPF. “I arrange the pillows so she can hide behind them and then pop out with a squawk to scare me while I am reading or watching TV.”
The severe macaw (Ara severa), also referred to as the chestnut-fronted macaw, is an active, social and extremely affectionate bird. At 18 to 20 inches in length, it is one of the larger of the mini macaws. The severe speaks fairly well and is known to be destructive, so it needs plenty of toys. Just like the other minis, the severe macaw can also be bossy and demanding, and definitely has a mind of its own.
“When Liberty was about 2 years old, she went through a period of about six months where she hated my husband and refused to interact with him without biting,” said Stephanie Martin of Florida. “We started allowing her to have her favorite foods only given by him, and I would ignore her at times, and now she is perfectly loving with both of us again.”
Martin said that the most surprising aspect of living with a severe macaw is how devoted the bird is.
“I am, without a doubt, her person,” said Martin. “She calls for me, and when she sees me, she flies to me. She loves to cuddle and would rather be hanging out with me than anywhere else. Liberty would spend 24-hours a day hanging out with me if I let her. I have encouraged her to play alone and entertain herself, because she would require hours of attention a day if I allowed it. Because I work full time and go to school, this is just not possible. We usually spend two to three hours a day together, sometimes more. Sometimes she will sit quietly on my head while I do my homework, or we will watch a movie in the evening.”
Like the other mini macaws, the severe is known as an intelligent bird that knows how to get what it wants.
“I love watching Liberty’s thought processes,” said Martin. “Liberty is potty trained. When she has to go, she’ll fly to the perch, or she’ll gently tug my finger in a specific way to let me know to take her to go.”
The little yellow-collared macaw (Ara auricollis) is known to be good talker, affectionate and lively and, at just 15 inches, is a good size for apartment living. However the yellow-collared macaw can be noisy, so it’s only good for apartment life if the neighbors are either very tolerant or a little deaf. In keeping with its “macaw” status, this bird is a giant personality in a small body and will not hesitate to remind owners of its personal preferences.
“Sunny is a typical mini macaw in general, and yellow collar specifically, with a few of her own quirks thrown in,” said Linda Moose of Alabama, of her feathered pal. “She has a big macaw attitude in a small package. These birds are territorial, and mine is no exception. She is very persistent. They are about as intelligent as a 3-year-old child with the reasoning abilities of a 3 year old. They also have the mule-headedness of a 3 year old and throw tantrums like one. They live in the terrible twos most of their lives. It’s up to us to read their body language and respect it.”
Laura Martinez of Illinois said that she read that yellow-collared macaws can become “one-person birds,” but that did not dissuade her from adopting her yellow-collared macaw, Alex.
“Although Alex doesn’t like strangers, he does like several people he has contact with,” said Martinez. “I would absolutely adopt another yellow-collared macaw, because I think they are fabulous birds. I wouldn’t want a bird that likes everyone. People should have to earn their bird’s love.”
Just because the mini macaws are termed “mini” doesn’t mean that they’re mini in personality; they come with everything that a larger macaw has, except the huge beak, so, there’s one huge advantage to “going small.”