Macaws are known as the giants of the parrot world. 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. Macaw adaptations include large, curved, powerful beaks designed to crack open hard nuts and seeds. These parrots have a long, streamlined physique and colorful feathering, ranging from the hyacinth macaw’s 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 and mini macaws. The large macaws include those of the Ara, Anodorhynchus, and Cyanopsitta genera. This “blue macaws” group includes the hyacinth, along with the critically endangered Lear’s macaw and Spix’s macaw. The mini macaws are much smaller and include those from the genera Diopsittaca, Orthopsittaca, and Primolius.
Although there are 18 living species of macaws, not all commonly get adopted by people. The commonly kept companion macaw species include the following, listed by common name and scientific name: blue-and-gold macaw (Ara ararauna), green-winged macaw (Ara chloropterus), Hahn’s macaw (Diopsittaca nobilis nobilis), hyacinth macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus), scarlet macaw (Ara macao), military macaw (Ara militaris), and severe macaw (Ara severus). Some of these species have other common names. For example, the blue-and-gold macaw is sometimes called the blue-and-yellow macaw, and the military macaw is sometimes called the chestnut-fronted macaw.
For fun macaw facts, be sure to read the quick facts section!
Native Region / Natural Habitat
Macaws are native to the southern portion of North America (Mexico) plus Central America and South America. Evidence shows that the Caribbean also had native macaw species, which are now extinct, such as the Cuban macaw (Ara tricolor) and the Saint Croix macaw (Ara autochthones). They inhabit rainforests, as well as 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 at 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.
Some species of macaw are endangered or at risk of extinction, according to the IUCN Red List. Nine species are currently at the most risk. Three macaws are critically endangered: glaucous macaw (Anodorhynchus glaucus), blue-throated macaw (Ara glaucogularis), and Spix’s macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii). Three macaws are endangered: Lear’s macaw (Anodorhynchus leari), great green macaw (Ara ambiguus), and red-fronted macaw (Ara rubrogenys). Three macaws are vulnerable: hyacinth macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus), military macaw (Ara militaris), and blue-headed macaw (Primolius couloni).
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 differ from that of other parrots because they need 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. The berry and cake shapes of these foods invite more interaction. Macaws tend to love Pellet-Berries, Avi-Cakes, and Nutri-Berries.
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 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. The cost of a stable 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. Foraging involves searching for food or time spent enjoying food. Nutri-Berries by Lafeber Company satisfy the need for foraging while providing superior nutrition.
A macaw might make a game out of spooking people by leaning forward and lunging toward them. This is not done 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 quite 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.
Health & Common Conditions
Macaws can be prone to feather-destructive behaviors. If a complete veterinary 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 (PBFD), 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
Would a macaw be a good pet? That depends on you. Adding a macaw to your family means considering if you have the room, the time, the personality, and other factors that make a macaw a good companion for you. Because macaws need spacious accommodations and are long-lived, adding a macaw to the family needs to be thoroughly thought through.
Macaws are most likely to be sold in avian-specialty stores or from bird breeders. They are also sometimes available for adoption from avian rescue organizations.