Macaws in Brief:
Scientific Name: Several different species available
Adult Size: 12 to 36 inches (30.5 to 91.5 cm)
Weight: 8 to 54 ounces (220 to 1530 g)
Life Span: 50 years or more
Talking Ability: Good for some species
Macaws are among the largest parrot species, and they have large personalities to go along with their physical size. A macaw is usually not a good choice for a first-time parrot keeper, but they make loyal and affectionate pets for the right person or family. Let's discuss the basics of life with a macaw to help you decide if this larger-than-life bird is for you.
There are about 18 species of macaws, including some that are critically endangered or possibly extinct. They range in size from medium to large, all with long, tapering tails; the tail may make up half the total length of a macaw. The wing feathers are also long. Even for their size, macaws have huge beaks used to crack open nuts—or dismantle your furniture!
There is a bare patch of skin on the face, usually right around the eye. The size, exact placement, and color of the patch vary by species. When a macaw is excited or angry, the patch becomes flushed and red.
Macaws are well known for their showy coloration. Several species are predominantly bright yellow and blue or bright red in color; one is purple and yellow. Even the species that are mostly green in color are bright greens with highlights of other colors.
Like all parrots and parakeets, macaws are part of the large group (technically known as an order) of birds called Psittaciformes, and parrots are sometimes called psittacines [SIT a seens]. Parrots are also called hookbills, for their strongly hooked bills that they use for climbing, digging, cracking open seeds, and preening their feathers.
Macaws are closely related to the conures.
Several macaw species are found in the pet trade. The blue and gold and the scarlet macaws are the most commonly available species; others you may see include the military, greenwing, and hyacinth macaws.
Blue and Gold Macaw
Also called the blue and yellow macaw (Ara ararauna), this bird lives up to either name. The front of his neck and body and the underside of his tail and wings are golden yellow in color, while his back, nape, and top of the wings and tail are turquoise blue. He is one of the largest macaws, reaching up to 33 inches (83 cm) in length.
Another aptly named species, the scarlet macaw (Ara macao) is mostly brilliant red in color with yellow and blue feathers on his wings and tail. This large species can be up to 36 inches (91.5 cm) long.
There are a number of small species of macaws known as the miniature or mini macaws. All these species are less than 20 inches (51 cm) long, and they include the Hahn's, noble, yellow-collared, and severe macaws. These smaller birds tend to be better for first-time parrot keepers than the larger macaws.
In the Wild
Macaws are found throughout Central and South America. They mostly dwell in forests, but some species live in savannas and more arid habitats.
Macaws live in flocks of a few to several dozen individuals. They eat a wide range of food in the wild, including leaves, fruits, nuts, twigs, seeds, and the occasional insect or small animal.
One interesting behavior of wild macaws is that they fly to exposed clay cliffs and ingest the clay. They are believed to do this to neutralize toxins in their diet.
Macaws as Pets
A macaw can make a wonderful pet for the right household. However, this very intelligent bird can be willful and manipulative. A conscientious macaw companion will provide ample guidance and training (and affection) so that he understands the rules and boundaries in his home. Be prepared to spend more than an hour a day caring for and interacting with your macaw.
Cage and Accessories
A macaw needs a very large and sturdy cage; don't consider anything less than 36 by 36 by 60 inches (91.5 x 91.5 x 152 cm). The best cages are made of wrought iron or powder-coated steel. Make sure that the bars of the cage are spaced so that your bird cannot stick his head out between them. For most macaws, 1 inch (2.5 cm) between the bars is a good size, but ¾ inches (2 cm) is suitable for the mini macaws. A macaw also needs perches in a variety of sizes and materials to keep his feet healthy. Natural wooden perches with the bark still on them are highly recommended by most authorities.
Provide numerous toys to keep your bird mentally stimulated when you aren't around, and rotate them regularly so that he doesn't get bored. Choose toys that are sized for macaws and cockatoos.
Your macaw will need fresh food—a variety of fruits, vegetables, cooked grains and beans, and healthy human food—two times a day. Make pellets available to him all day, and provide a small amount of seeds once a day. The macaw seems to need more fat in his diet than most other parrots, so feed a variety of nuts or even cooked lean meats as well. Fresh, clean water must be available at all times. Like other parrots, a macaw can be a messy eater, so be prepared to clean the water bowl, cage, and surrounding area regularly.
Macaws in Brief: