Basic Information Sheet: Macaw



Blue and gold macaw (Ara ararauna) (left); green-winged macaw (Ara chloropterus )(right)

Natural history

Macaws are found in a variety of habitats throughout large areas of the Amazon Basin, such as gallery forests and mangrove swamps.  Most macaws are listed on Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Appendix I, however the blue and gold, green-winged, Hahn’s, noble, red-bellied, severe and yellow-collared macaws are listed on CITES Appendix II. Appendix I species are threatened with extinction globally, and commercial trade is prohibited and importation/exportation for scientific research requires special permits. Appendix II species are not necessarily threatened with extinction, but may become so unless their trade is strictly regulated.


Class: Aves

Order: Psittaciformes

Family: Psittacidae

Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus – hyacinth macaw

Ara spp.

Ara ararauna – blue and gold macaw

Ara chloropterus – green-winged macaw

Ara macao – scarlet macaw

Diopsittaca nobilisD. n. cumanensis – noble macaw


There are 15 species of macaws in the genus Ara and 3 species in genus Anodorhynchus. Blue and gold, scarlet, and green-winged macaws are among the most popular pet macaw species. Visit LafeberVet’s Macaw ID Slideshow for additional information.

Physical description

  • Macaws are slender birds with long tapered tails; strong, heavy bills; and a bare facial patch.
  • Macaws are sexually monomorphic.
  • The green-winged macaw may be distinguished from the scarlet macaw by its larger size and the bands of small, red feathers around the eyes. Scarlet macaws also have yellow feathers on their wings.

    Scarlet macaws (Ara macao)

    Scarlet macaws (Ara macao). Image by Dunleavy. Click image to enlarge


  • Macaws are frugivores, granivores, and/or florivores. Free-ranging birds feed on seeds, fruit, figs, palm nuts, leaves, nectar, and/or flowers.
  • Some macaws need more fat in their diet. Hyacinth macaws consume only palm nuts in the wild.
  • Since psittacine birds hull seeds before ingestion, they do not require grit. In fact, some individuals will overeat grit when ill putting the bird at risk for impaction.
  • All-seed diets are deficient in protein, vitamins, and minerals including calcium and vitamin A.


  • Macaws require a large amount of space in a quality made cage or room with appropriate toys.
  • Cage bar spacing should be 0.75-1.5 in (1.9-3.8 cm).
  • Perch diameter should range from 5/8 in (1.6 cm) for Hahn’s macaw up to 2 in (5 cm) for hyacinth macaws.
  • Provide frequent baths or showers.


  • Most of the large macaws are considered gentle birds, however all large macaws can be quite noisy and destructive.
  • The scarlet macaw has a reputation for a particularly strong personality making them a difficult pet for inexperienced owners.
  • All macaws are extremely intelligent that require a lot of stimulation.
  • Feather destructive behavior may be more common in some of the mini macaw species.
  • Most macaw species have a bare facial area, which can flush pink indicating a change in mood.
  • Foraging is an important part of normal daily parrot activity. Teach and encourage pet birds to play and forage.

Normal physiologic values

Temperature (average)* 42°C 107.7°F
Heart rate (beats/min) Small Macaws 389
Large Macaws 275
Respiration (breaths/min) 20-25
Average body weight (g) Hahn’s 120-160
Military 900
Scarlet 900-1000
Blue and Gold 900-1300
Green-Winged 1200-1600
Hyacinth 1250-1695
Mean life span (years) Small Macaws 20-25 (35 reported)
Large Macaws 30-45 (75-100 possible)
Sexual maturity Small Macaws 4-6 years
Large Macaws 5-7 years
Mean number of incubation days 23-28 Longer for larger birds
Average number of eggs laid 1-3
Weaning age (days) Small Macaws 90-120 – parent raised
Large Macaws 120-150 – parent raised
Target environmental temperature Mimic natural environment. Household temperatures of 70-80°F (21-27°C) are generally acceptable, however healthy birds can tolerate hot and cold temperatures.
*Routine avian exam does not include measuring body temperature

Anatomy and physiology

  • Macaws have a rolling or waddling gait due to walking on their feet as well as caudal tarsometatarsus.
  • The pressure exerted by a large macaw beak can be greater than 200 psi.
  • Macaws share the following anatomic traits with other members of Order Psittaciformes:
    • Communication of the right and left nasal sinus
    • The only avian tongue with intrinsic muscles
    • Simply syrinx
    • Craniofacial hinge of beak is a synovial joint
    • Ceca absent
    • Gall bladder often absent
    • Zygodactyl foot: two toes pointed backward and two pointed forward


  • Most macaw species have a bare facial patch that can flush pink color indicating a change in mood.
  • Restrain large macaws by placing the thumb and forefinger beneath the mandible. Secure the outside wing with three fingers and use the other hand to hold the feet.
  • Avoid touching the bare facial patch as the skin can bruise after aggressive restraint.


Use a 25-gauge needle and 1 to 3-mL syringe to draw blood from the right jugular vein. Collection of up to 1% of body weight is acceptable in healthy patients.

Preventive medicine

  • Obtain a complete history and perform a thorough annual physical examination.
  • Establish baseline data with regular clinical testing (complete blood count, protein electrophoresis, and plasma biochemistries.
  • Ensure proper nutrition and husbandry.
  • Recommend quarantine of newly acquired birds.
  • Perform additional testing for select diseases based on history and physical exam findings: avian polyoma virus and psittacosis.
  • Determine origin and history of newly acquired sick birds to contain and prevent further spread of disease.
  • Birds housed in large groups or aviaries are at higher risk of Pacheco’s disease virus and use of the vaccine may be indicated.
  • The avian polyoma virus vaccine is recommended for breeding populations.


Intramuscular (IM) Reasonably safe, most accurate.
Inject middle of muscle mass.
Ideal location –Pectoral muscle mass
Subcutaneous (SQ) Large volumes can be injected, poor absorption. Location:  Inguinal or precrural fold
Intravenous Effective, narrow safety range. Right jugular vein or brachial vein is most commonly used.
Alternative option: superficial metatarsal vein.

Important medical conditions

Non-Infectious Diseases

  • Aspergillosis
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Beak malocclusion
  • Degenerative cardiac disease
  • Feather destructive behavior in some mini macaw species
  • Goiter
  • Inflammatory skin disease
  • Internal papillomatosis
  • Respiratory disease including pulmonary hypersensitivity syndrome or allergic pneumonitis: The incidence of respiratory disease increases in birds exposed to low relative humidity and/or birds that produce lots of powder down such as cockatoos.
  • Yolk peritonitis

Infectious Diseases

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Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Appendices I, II, and III.  Valid from Apr 27, 2011. Available at: Accessed June 8, 2011.

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Tully TN, Lawton MPC, Dorrestein GM. Avian Medicine. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann, 2000. Pp. 26-34, 43-51.

To cite this page:

Pollock C. Basic information sheet: Macaw. January 8, 2012. LafeberVet Web site. Available at