Quick Facts

  • A macaw’s facial feather pattern is as unique as a fingerprint
  • Macaws are sexually monomorphic, meaning that they have a single form, structural pattern, or genotype
  • Macaws are frugivores, granivores, and/or florivores and feed on seeds, fruit, figs, palm nuts, leaves, nectar, as well as flowers
  • Most species of macaws have a bare facial area, which can flush pink when excited.

Macaw

blue-and-gold & green-winged macawMacaws are known as the giants of the parrot world, and the hyacinth macaw is the longest parrot, with a head to tail length of nearly 40 inches. Macaws have long tail feathers as well as big beaks. Their large, curved beaks are quite powerful and are designed to crack open hard nuts and seeds. Macaws have a long, streamlined physique and colorful feathering, ranging from the hyacinth’s macaw hyacinth blue to the scarlet macaw’s scarlet red coloring. Some macaw species have bare facial patches. Macaws are informally classified into two groups; large macaws, which include those of the Ara and Anodorhynchus (the “blue macaws,” including the hyacinth and and critically endangered Lear’s macaw) genus, and the much smaller mini macaws, which include macaws of the Diopsittaca, Orthopstittaca and Primolius genus.

Native Region / Natural Habitat

Macaws are native to the southern portion of North America (Mexico), Central America, South America, and there is evidence that the Carribbean also had native macaw species, which are now extinct, such as the Saint Croix macaw. They inhabit rain forests, as well as more grasslands and grassy woodland-type areas. Macaws, and other parrot species, native to the Amazon basin, such as Peru, have been observed eating from clay licks (clay from exposed river bank), which researchers believe is a way for the parrots to neutralize toxins found in some of the foods they consume in the wild.

Personality & Behavior

Macaws are a force to be reckoned with. Everything about them is big, from their voices to their attitudes. Even the mini macaws are big … on the inside! Colorful and often raucous, they call attention to themselves even when quiet. Although, to the uninitiated, macaws seem formidable and may bluster and carry on, those who share their lives with these magnificent friends know that they contain surprisingly soft and loving hearts and sensitive natures.

Macaws can be quite playful and love toys they can chew up, especially items made of wood. A pet macaw will need a consistent supply of appropriate toys and other safe items to destroy, and the cost of a staple supply of toys should be factored in to the monthly pet budget. Macaws are intelligent birds that also thrive on activities designed to challenge them, such as foraging activities.
A macaw might make a game out of spooking people by leaning forward and lunging toward them, not as an aggressive gesture but more for the reaction it causes. In general, a well-socialized, positively interacted with macaw can be a gentle pet. Macaws from the Ara genus, such as green-winged, scarlet and blue-and-gold macaws, have a bare facial patch, which turns flush when the bird is overly excited.

Speech & Sounds

Large macaws have equally large vocalizations, and their squawks and screeches can be very loud and ear piercing. A potential macaw owner needs to take a macaw’s large sound into consideration, especially if he or she lives in an apartment and/or has nearby neighbors. Macaws can be taught to talk and they might also be inclined to whistle or to imitate sounds and noises they hear inside and outside the home.

Care & Feeding

A macaw needs a cage tall enough to prevent its tail feathers from hitting the cage bottom, which can cause the tail feathers to bend or break. Overall, a macaw needs a much larger cage and play stand than other parrot species, so a potential owner should take space considerations into account.

In their natural habitat, macaws feed on native seeds, fruits, flowers, leaves, palm nuts, figs, nectar and, in some regions, clay from exposed river banks. The dietary needs of some macaw species differs from that of other parrots in that they need generally more fat in their diet. The wild macaw’s diet tends to be high in fat, which is acceptable for a bird that spends its day flying through the rainforest, finding food, nesting, and rearing chicks. Companion macaws tend to have a much easier life than their wild counterparts, but they miss out on the ability to forage for their food, a behavior that comes naturally. Lafeber’s bird foods are ideal for the lively macaw, a bird that appreciates the opportunity to tear apart its meals. Macaws tend to love Pellet-Berries, Avi-Cakes and Nutri-Berries.

Health & Common Conditions

Macaws can be prone to feather-destructive behaviors. If a complete medical exam rules out medical causes of feather plucking, boredom and/or lack of appropriate mental stimulation can be a cause. Offer your macaw an enriched environment with plenty of opportunities for play and exercise, such as a climbing nets and ropes, in addition to toys.
Macaws are also more susceptible to Proventricular Dilatation Disease (PDD), Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease, Psittacosis, beak malocclusion and Aspergillosis. Regular health checkups by an avian veterinarian can help diagnose and treat many disease processes early on.

It is normal for a macaw to sneeze a few times a day to clear out dust or dander from its nares, which might be accompanied by a clear discharge. If the sneezing is persistent and/or the discharge is not a clear color, contact your avian veterinarian.

Get a Macaw

Macaws are most likely to be sold in avian-specialty stores or from bird breeder. They are also sometimes available for adoption from avian rescue organizations. Because macaws need spacious accommodations and are long-lived, this is a pet situation that needs to be thoroughly thought through.