Big, bright and loud — all words to describe the biggest parrots of them all, macaws! So what do owners (and potential owners) need to know about these birds? Not only do macaws need an owner who is not intimidated by their size, they need an owner who will give them what they need most: respect, training and, most importantly, love.
Understanding and respecting a macaw is critical to a happy, life-long, working relationship.
"[Macaws] read our body language better than we do,” said Michele Parrett, of Featherlust Bird Farm in Connecticut, who owns macaws. Parrett stressed the importance of always reading a macaw’s body language.
"Birds may bite if we are not respectful and attentive to their body language,” said Ann Brooks, President and Founder of Phoenix Landing. "Avoiding negative interactions and big macaw bites is essential! It is important for our parrot's quality of life, and our own safety, that we take the time to learn how to communicate with our birds in a positive way.”
Another thing owners need to respect (and accept) is that macaws are not quiet. "Macaws are loud and people should know that,” said Parrett. "People intellectually know they are loud, but when they hear the noise up close and personal, it makes all the difference. Macaws are loud twice a day ... for the pure joy of doing it.”
Training is essential for these big birds. "Macaws have a potentially long life span, and even if well trained as a youngster, bad habits will develop if training is not maintained,” said Kashmir Csaky, an IAABC-certified parrot behavioral consultant. "If the bird is poorly trained, then life will be more stressful for the macaw and the people who live with the bird.”
"People have to do training, especially positive reinforcement training,” said Parrett. "Positive reinforcement training increases the human-avian bond. It builds trust, you get to read your macaw’s body language and they get your attention.”
Reward the behavior you like with a treat or praise, and ignore bad behavior. This also helps establish boundaries with your macaw so it knows what you expect of it.
"Macaws, like many parrots, can be high energy and certainly have a keen intelligence,” said Brooks. "They enjoy activities that provide for physical exercise, but they also appreciate mentally challenging games and training. It's also easy to teach tricks to a macaw.”
What does a macaw need most? "I kept thinking about things [that macaws need], such as a big, roomy cage, a gym or plenty of freedom to make choices,” said Csaky, when asked what every macaw must have. "However, none of these things alone would make for a happy bird. The one thing that really makes a difference is the person who is responsible for the bird.”
According to Brooks, owners must have "respect for a parrot’s nature, and a willingness to learn about communication techniques to foster and maintain a positive relationship.”
According to Csaky, macaws need "a responsible person who is knowledgeable and capable of caring for the bird. The person should understand and provide for the bird’s basic needs. They should keep current with the latest information.
"Every macaw needs love,” said Parrett. "Macaws, whether babies or adults, need love. A macaw who gets love will give love in return; who knows what their owner expects from … it’s a domino effect. It all leads to a happier bird.”
Cage: Macaws need a big cage, so follow the rule of thumb: the bigger, the better! A macaw’s cage, at minimum, must be 48 by 32 by 60 inches.
Toys: A macaw’s beak is built to crack nuts, so expect to through a lot of wooden toys. Macaws need plenty of toys, made from all sorts of materials.
Diet: "Macaws are largely fruit and nut eaters in the wild, so in addition to their healthy pellet, they need a nice assortment of fresh, nutritious foods,” said Brooks. "Anyone interested in a macaw needs to know that their food bill will go up!”
Play Area: Macaws also need a play area. "People don’t realize how acrobatic macaws are,” said Parrett. "They see that long tail and think it gets in the way. But macaws need room to hang upside down to play with toys. They love to run around, fly and play.”
Want to learn more about macaws? Check out these articles!
Top 10 Pet Macaw Parrot Questions Answered
Macaws: 8 Things You Should Know