People are attracted to blue-and-gold macaws (Ara ararauna) because they are a big, colorful, stereotypical "parrot,” and they generally talk well. They don’t have the vocabulary or the intelligence of, say, an African grey, but that’s hardly an insult — they’re probably smarter than your dog. Some blue & golds have been known to have vocabularies of up to 600 words, according to Kashmir Csaky, who has bred macaws for many years now.
However, while extremely intelligent, blue-and-gold macaws do not tend to be puzzle-solvers the way some other parrots are. Csaky thinks a lot of this stems from the way they would interact with their environment in the wild. Large birds like macaws don’t need to solve puzzles and manipulate pieces of their environment to get what they want — they can just use brute force instead. They can be taught to solve puzzles, but they usually have to be shown how, step-by-step, first. Csaky recommends teaching them backwards, with the final step (and the reward) first. Then, slowly make your blue & gold work harder and harder to get it. Puzzle foraging can keep a single bird entertained while the family (or single owner) is away during the day.
As a large and vocal parrot, macaws are unsurprisingly loud. They would not make good apartment birds, as your neighbor would probably not be appreciative — not to mention, an apartment might be too small for the amount of room required for a macaw. Blue & golds are typically very high-energy macaws, though they tend to settle down and into their personalities a bit as they reach 2 to 3 years of age. Assuming they have been trained correctly and haven’t had bad habits reinforced as babies, this is when they really come into their own and become better pets. They do, however, retain a sense of mischief.
"They’ll drop food on your head, poop on the dog, that sort of thing,” Csaky said. In fact, she thinks their sense of humor and mischief is one of the most unique things about blue-and-gold macaws as a species, compared to other parrots and even other macaws. Blue & golds know exactly what they’re doing, and seem to take pleasure in causing their owners consternation.
They also, as mentioned, can be extremely good talkers, and can learn to use language appropriately. The blue & gold at my store, for instance, says "good morning!” to me almost every time I come in the door. He can’t quite pronounce "morning,” but he absolutely knows that it is a greeting. He also says "yummy yummy” or "mmm!” when he has a treat he likes — or if he sees that you have one that he wants!
Despite their mischief, they generally have a reputation for being a bird with a more stable personality than some of their other macaw cousins, like the scarlet macaw. They are much more rambunctious, however, than some others, like the green-winged macaws or the hyacinths. For someone used to dealing with rambunctious large birds, that energy could be a fun thing; for someone without bird experience, it could be wearing.
An ideal owner should really have previous experience, not just with parrots but with large parrots. They can’t be intimidated by the size of the bird (and the size of her beak), or the bird is quickly going to learn exactly how to intimidate and manipulate them. As with any bird — but especially with a bird this size, who could do real damage if she wanted — an owner needs an even temper and lots of patience.
We have had people come into the store that wanted to buy our blue & gold because he "matched their curtains.” While the vibrant colors are definitely an exciting factor, this, like a parrot’s talking ability, should never be a sole reason to get a bird. If you are considering a macaw, ask yourself: What is it about this particular species that makes it such an appealing companion for me? Blue-and-gold macaws above all seem to be fun-loving. For an owner who is prepared, they bring that fun into your life as well.
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