Macaws are coveted by parrot fanciers for their brilliant plumage, talking ability and colorful, intelligent personality. In the wild, the macaw's strong toes and powerful beak are well adapted to Central and South American rain forest habitats. In either setting, these awesome birds make every day a bit louder and brighter.
The smallest macaw of all, Hahn's Macaw, is just 12-14 inches long and its mini-macaw cousins -- the Blue-Headed Macaw, Blue-Winged Macaw and Yellow-Collared Macaw -- break the big-bird stereotype by averaging 15 to 17 inches in length. These birds are green with bright-colored highlight feathers. The severe macaw is a bit larger at 15 to 20 inches long, and is also mostly green in color. Large green macaws with colorful accents are Buffon's Macaw at 30 to 35 inches long, the Military Macaw at 27 to 33 inches and the Red-Fronted Macaw at 21 to 25 inches; all are vulnerable or endangered in the wild. The more colorful macaws are the Green-Winged Macaw and the Scarlet Macaw that average a whopping 3 feet in length, the Blue and Gold Macaw measuring 30 to 36 inches long and the Blue-Throated Macaw at 30 to 34 inches. The Blue and Gold is the species most seen kept in home environments in North America.
A seed mix should be supplemented with greens, fruits, berries and nuts to best simulate the macaw's natural diet. Veterinarians recommend a pelleted diet as three-quarters of a macaw's food to ensure he's getting proper nutrition. Nuts for your bird to crack with his beak can be as much entertainment for your bird as nutrition. Macaws may drink significantly more in hot weather but can also pull needed hydration out of fruits and veggies. Cooked meats such as chicken and fish, eggs and small bits of cheese are enjoyed as treats.
In the wild, a macaw picks a mate for life. They either live with this chosen mate, in a flock that can be up to 30 strong or in family groups. Macaws tend to bond closely and be affectionate with their owners, and this may be just one designated person in a household. Because of their size, strength and territorial nature, care should be taken in matching a macaw to a household with other birds, other pets or children. The strength of the bond with your bird relates to how well-adjusted your feathered friend is with proper attention and stimulation.
You will hear a macaw before you see it. The loud, screeching calls of the macaw aren't just for his own entertainment but serve the purpose of connecting with his flock in the wild and marking out his territory. These natural screeches are most frequent in the early morning and before sunset, but a macaw owner -- and the neighbors -- should be prepared for macaw calls throughout the day. When not sending out traditional dawn and dusk signals, macaws are chatting, preening, eating or trying to get a companion's attention. Macaws also mimic sounds in their environment -- if you have a noisy house, the macaw will mirror this -- and will practice new words and phrases until perfect.
Keeping a Macaw
A macaw is a long-term commitment as some species can make it to the ripe old age of 100. Shelters and animal rescues often have macaws who outlived their owners in addition to birds whose owners realized a macaw was not right for their household. A macaw needs a large cage in both width and height but must have time out of the cage each day for necessary training, stimulation, exercise and bonding; the minimum size is 36 by 48 by 60 inches for one bird. Food, large-parrot toys and untreated branches can both keep a macaw entertained in his cage and divert him from mischief such as tearing at wood and household furnishings outside the cage.