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Top 10 Pet Macaw Parrot Questions Answered

Have a question about your pet macaw? Check the BirdChannel.com pet macaw parrot FAQ for answers!

BirdChannel.com Editors
Posted: April 12, 2013, 5:10 p.m. PDT

blue-and-gold macaw
The blue-and-gold macaw is one of the most popular large macaws.

1) What kind of macaw parrot do I have?
The 17 species of macaw parrots range in size from 40-inch-tall hyacinth macaw to the 12-inch-tall red-shouldered macaw. Along with the hyacinth macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacintinus), the larger macaws include the:

Blue-and-gold macaw (Ara ararauna)
Blue-throated macaw (Ara glaucogularis)
Scarlet macaw (Ara macao)
Green-winged macaw (Ara chloroptera)
Military macaw (Ara militaris)
Red-fronted macaw 
Great green macaw, also known as the Buffon’s macaw (Ara ambiguous).

Smaller macaws make up the group known as mini-macaws, and include the: 
Severe macaw (A. severus)
Yellow-collared macaw (Primolius auricollis)
Hahn's macaw (Diopsittaca nobilis)
Illiger's macaw (P. maracana)
Noble macaw (Diospittaca nobilis cumanensis)
Red-bellied macaw (Orthopsittaca manilata)

There are also a group of macaws, known as the hybrid macaws. These macaws are offspring of two macaw species (e.g., the catalina macaw is the offspring of the scarlet macaw and blue-and-gold macaw.) There is a lot of controversy surrounding hybrid macaws. Many aviculturists believe that with so many parrots that are endangered, perserving bloodlines and genetics is crucial to the species' survival. Breeding hybrid macaws can undermine the bloodline and genetics of a species.

Hybrid macaws are no different from other macaws as pets. Hybrid macaws include:

  • Miligold macaw
  • Ruby macaw
  • Shamrock macaw
  • Bluffon's macaw
  • Calico macaw
  • Catalina macaw
  • Camelot macaw
  • Harlequin macaw
Scarlet Macaw
Another popular macaw is the scarlet macaw, known for its flashy red color and dynamic personality.

2) What should my macaw parrot eat?
Larger parrots, such as macaws, require more protein in their diet. Pet macaws should have be fed bird foods that contains large amount of foods rich in beta carotene, the precursor to Vitamin A. These foods include sweet potatoes, carrots, peppers, kale and any other orange or dark green leafy vegetables. In the wild, macaw parrots forage for seeds and nuts in trees. Their active lifestyle in the wild accounts for the high-calorie food need, so fewer nuts are needed in the home. You can still feed a few nuts in-shell for a treat or foraging activity.

3) What kind of bird cage should I get for my macaw parrot?
As with any pet bird, buy the biggest bird cage possible that you can accommodate and afford for your macaw. Macaw parrots, as the largest parrot species, need super-sized bird cages. Start with the minimum of 2 1/2 feet wide by 4 feet deep by 5 feet tall. Bigger pet bird cages will allow for more exercise and, consequently, a healthier macaw. Big macaw parrot beaks mean tough material is necessary to prevent pet bird cage destruction or break-outs.

4) Is my macaw parrot male or female?
Only testing can say for certain whether your pet macaw parrot is a male or female. You can choose DNA testing — using a few feathers, the shell of the egg from which your bird hatched, or a drop of blood — or you may opt for surgical sexing. This can identify gender as well as any sexual defects, but it is a more invasive process than DNA sexing. Speak to your avian veterinarian before moving forward with either procedure.

5) Do macaw parrots talk?
Yes, many macaw parrots mimic human speech. Some macaw parrots, like the blue-and-gold macaw, are known to learn phrases more easily than others. All macaws, however, will want to vocalize by mimicking whistles and household noises or by speaking words. Try simple training tricks to get your pet macaw talking. Start with the food in your pet macaw’s cage and teach it the difference between banana, apple and orange or between seed and nut. When you greet your macaw parrot say "Hello” and say "Goodbye” when you leave. Connecting phrases to familiar items or actions will help your macaw learn faster.

Hyacinth macaw
Hyacinth macaws are the largest parrots in the world.

6) What’s the best way to train my macaw parrot?
Macaw parrots are intelligent birds that can learn behaviors and tricks. Experts recommend watching your pet macaw parrot and noticing what motions and behaviors it exhibits on its own. Work with these movements and incorporate them into tricks by introducing cues and offering rewards. For example, a macaw parrot that often lifts its foot would be a good candidate to learn the wave or shaking hands, and one that likes to bob its head up and down could be encouraged to "Nod Yes.” When you see your pet parrot do this, say, "Nod your head yes,” and hand it a treat or offer a head scratch. Eventually, the simple cue "Nod Yes” can prompt the macaw to move its head up and down to get the reward. Mastering these simple tricks can lead the way to more complex ones.

7) What should I get my pet macaw parrot to keep it happy?
As larger parrots, macaws enjoy using their large beaks to manipulate and shred. Wood toys help these pet birds keep their beaks in good shape. Climbing ropes and hammocks offer lots of fun — so do stainless-steel puzzle toys and foraging toys. For the pet bird cage, get macaw-appropriate perches. Thick, durable woods are necessary for any macaw perch to have an extended life. Big beaks and feet like to chew and climb, so offer multiple perches — including one especially for manipulating and shredding. Of course the best enrichment is lots of playtime with owners.

8) Can macaw parrots contract certain diseases?
Macaws can contract a few common diseases in particular. Aspergillosis is a fungal infection caused by molds. It often results from poor hygiene in the cage or food storage. Macaws infected with this will have labored breathing and some rasping. Psittacosis is also prevalent. This comes from an infection of Chlamydophila, and infected birds don’t always display symptoms.

Woman with kitten
Hybrid macaws, like this Harlequin macaw, are offspring of two macaw species. There is some controversy surrounding hybrid macaws.

9) How can I tell if my pet macaw is sick?
Keep an eye on your pet macaw parrot to detect any differences in behavior or habits. If changes happen, without cause, closely watch your bird and take it to your avian veterinarian. A sick macaw might also have poor feathering and slouching posture. Make sure your bird’s eyes and nares are clear and unswollen.

10) What behaviorial problems can macaw parrots have?
Many experts say that macaw are more even-tempered than other parrot species. Some attribute it to the macaw’s size, saying they won’t overreact to little things the way smaller species will. Behavior problems can arise, however, if macaw parrots receive insufficient attention. Give macaws ample interaction and out-of-cage time to avoid feather destructive behavior and excessive screaming. Offer wood toys to chew so your macaw doesn't chew inappropriate items in your house (or at least deflect it from!). If your pet macaw parrot begins to exhibit unwanted aggression, try retraining it with neutral room techniques.

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Top 10 Pet Macaw Parrot Questions Answered

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Reader Comments
I have a B&G macaw and I get her nails trimmed about every 2 months. He uses a Drummel and it works great. Also I started having him round her beak off and it mellows her out and doesn't have that sharp point when she crawls over me.She is 10 and I bought her when she was 1 week old and went to see her every week while she has growing in the incubator and out after 3 months I brought her home. She eats everything I do . I cook meals. No chocolate.avacados or onions.She gets a bowl always full of purchased nut and grain mix. I buy nuts for her also. She spends most of her time on me or on top of her house [cage]. She says several words.Always says hi when the UPS guy goes by, she has learned the sound of his truck only. Has become territorial since my grandson arrived back from Afg. He tries to help and play with her but she charges him.I guess I`m her mate.She also has that honery hormonal thing 2- 3 times a year. I love her a lot. Would like have help with getting to to stop racing after my grandson.
Bunny, Yelm, WA
Posted: 4/7/2014 9:25:32 PM
Useful basic information and a good starting place for anyone considering a big bird. My advice is do your HOMEWORK before you get a big bird and ask yourself if you are in for a lifelong commitment, chances are your big bird will live as long or longer than you. I rashly decided to take in a rescue harlequin (bad situation, very sad bird) and it was a bit of a rocky road for us, but 13 years later we are still together. It was a rough beginning and took quite a bit of help and advice from avian experts (vets, trainers, etc.) to learn how to handle her and get her over her trauma (she used to sit in the corner of her cage and make sobbing sounds). Nowadays she's pretty happy-go- lucky, naughty, funny, lovable and occasionally a little bit mean/bossy/stubborn. She's no longer frightened, aggressive and ugly/mean. I love my big bird, could never part with her, so everything worked out for us after a lot of patience and persistence. But I still remember that she started in a different home (or several) where people didn't have the patience or the love for her and she turned into a rescue.
Jennifer, Placerville,, CA
Posted: 12/22/2013 12:27:13 PM
This is frankie the vet from biggin hill. i believe this was very accurate and my daughter found it very helpful to learn about macaaws. so i thank you.
frankie, london, AR
Posted: 5/8/2013 10:52:41 AM
Great tips. We got our Harlequin at 6 weeks old & a male. He started doing the head bobbing thing when we got a new baby macaw. Jasper is 6mons old now and baby is now about 13 weeks old. I notice my male parakeet often bobs his head at our female parakeet and wondered if it had something to do with some mating type thing. Our 6 mon old lays down to sleep, like a human with his head on the pillow. He wakes in the night and then usually sleeps like a bird. He lays on his back on his own when he wants the inside of his wings rubbed. When in the window his pupils are very small, almost pinheads and I pet him and he doesn't bite. If he is not interested he just turns his head away from you. Our baby is mimicking him now. She also lays down to sleep. I think our male was angry with me as he saw the baby laying on a blanket on my bed one day, which is "his" spot. He wouldn't have anything to do with me and started flapping all around the top of my bed squawking and he nipped at me. I think he was jealous. Very interesting reading our article. Our birds are spoiled rotten and get a lot of attention lol. Jasper rides on the vaccum when I'm cleaning. They like the blow dryer after a shower in the tub.
Amy, NYC, NY
Posted: 6/25/2012 8:55:49 PM
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