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Macaw Parrot Care Guide

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Author Topic: Macaw Parrot Care Guide  (Read 277 times)
Parrot Trooper

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« on: August 13, 2014, 08:56:46 pm »

Macaw Facts:
Macaws come from South and Central America and have been widely kept as pets since the beginning of the 20th century. In the United States they have been kept by the Pueblo Indians since 1100 A.D. The Pueblos especially prized the Scarlet Macaw. They are primarily tree top dwellers, living in the canopies of tropical forests.

There are 17 living species (and several subspecies) of macaws along with quite a few macaw hybrids. For a number of years the Macaw family were divided into just four genera, but today they are broken into six. These genera are Ara, Diopsittaca, Anodorhynchus, Cyanopsitta, Orthopsittaca, and Primolius.

All macaws have the same physical characteristics. They have a slender body, long wings, and a long tapered tail. All types of macaws have an oversized head and beak. The beak is adapted to eating large nuts in the wild, such as the various palm nuts.

The largest Macaw, and also the largest of all parrots, is the impressive Hyacinth Macaw at 36" in length with a wingspan of up to 42", and weighing up to 1550 grams. The smallest of the macaws is the Hahn's Macaw, reaching not quite 12" (30 cm) in length.

Types of Macaws:
The natural Macaw species are commonly broken into two groups, the Large Macaws and the Mini Macaws. Mini Macaws are those that only reach up to about 20 inches (50 cm) in total length. There are 8 living species (Including subspecies) of Mini Macaws and 11 living species (plus several subspecies) of Large Macaws. Large macaws are brilliantly colored while the smaller macaws tend to be predominantly green.

Brilliant variations of the normal colors is achieved through hybridization or cross-breeding rather than the mutation of a species. Hybrid Macaws have been produced In captivity, and this was often the result of accident where two species of macaw were kept in the same environment. They would become close companions, bond and then produced offspring. Due to the current interest and popularity of these birds, hybridization for the pet trade has resulted.

Hybrid macaws are often very beautiful birds with distinct coloration. Some varieties of hybrid macaw are now second or third generation birds, or even more. However, hybrid macaws are still macaws. They will require the same level of care and dedication from their keepers as the pure macaw species. The coloration of these birds can often be attributed to one parent or the other, but their temperament and behavior are uncertain. For this reason, you will want to learn all you can about each of the parent's characteristic. Make sure you are comfortable with keeping and handling all of the parent types before obtaining a baby.

Macaw Lifespan:
How long do macaws live? This is an important question that macaw enthusiasts ask. Macaws are often mistakenly thought to live up to 75 years or more, but this is incorrect. The actual lifespan of a Large Macaw and Hybrid Macaws is between 35 - 60 years. The life span of the Mini Macaw is shorter, on average they will live 20 - 25 years. Macaws are not as long lived as the cockatoos. A 40 year old macaw will start showing the signs of aging and a 50 year old macaw is a very old bird!

Methods of identification being used for Macaws today:

Macaw identification helps to deter bird thefts
    it is also used by breeders for record keeping

This is becoming a routine practice on captive-bred parrots.
    Closed bands are put on young chicks and open bands on older birds.
    Bands are used for identification of bloodlines, sex, former owners,
    previous mates, and date of birth.
    Males are often (though not always) banded on the right leg
    and female on the left.

Microchip Implants:
This is a tiny electronic chip in a glass case.
    It is inserted, through a needle into a muscle or under the skin.
    The chip is coded with a unique identification number,
    You can then register the chip with a a national registry system.
    It takes an electronic reader or scanner to read the chip.

Though they can be useful, tattoos do become illegible over time.
Spray Marking:
A harmless colored spray that lasts for a short period of time.

Tail Feather Clipping:
Used for short term identification
    This is done by clipping one or two central tail feathers.

This may have some useful applications.

Macaw Behavior:
In the wild macaws form a strong bond with another bird and the pair will join small flocks. They also tend to only vocalize within flock situations. In captivity most pet macaws are more likely to interact with their owners through physical contact, and often use vocal mimicry for attention.

Macaws make excellent pets. They have very nice temperaments and are very playful. A hand reared macaw is usually gentle and easily handled. There are a few things to be aware of (and to do) in order to have a wonderful and affectionate pet macaw.

Socializing A Macaw:
A well socialized macaw is a pet that will be enjoyed in lots of situations and by many people for years. A young macaw should be socialized with as many people as possible. They also should be exposed to lots of situations such as new cages, visits to a veterinarian, handling by friends, and having their wings and nails clipped.

Socializing a macaw and providing it lots of experiences are the keys to a great pet. Doing these things will develop a well rounded bird that doesn't become frightened of new things. It will also prevent too strong a bond with only one person developing.
Macaws and children can mix very successfully if the child learns how to interact with the parrot. Children and macaws should be supervised.

Macaws and other pets can also get used to each other and learn to accept each other. Again, however, be very careful to monitor all groupings of animals. A macaw can be very dangerous to small pets such as hamsters, guinea pigs, mice, and even small birds. Close friendships are just as possible as deadly enemy behaviors. You won't know until the relationship unfolds over time

Macaw Training:
Macaws are excellent for taming, and relatively easy to train. They are very intelligent, they can be taught many tricks. This ability to learn and perform tricks makes them a favorite bird for use in shows all over the world.

Taming and training your parrot depends first on trust, so go slowly and be consistent. Remember that taming and training a bird takes patience, never 'punish' your parrot! This only serves to destroy the trust you've spent so much time building.

Generally, as with any parrot, you should give a new arrival a few days to get used to you, your voice and it's cage before trying to handle it. A handfed baby will not need much taming and can often be handled right away, as it is use to human attention.

A word of caution in handling these birds, a handfed macaw and even captive raised macaws have no natural fear of humans. A bite from a macaw can be extremely painful and the large birds can easily remove a finger or two.

Restraining a macaw:
Restraining a macaw should only be done when it is necessary for treatment or to clip wings and feathers. If the bird is not tame and you need to handle it, it is best to initially use gloves.
It is easiest to restrain a macaw by covering it with a towel or net. Place a hand around the back of the head with the thumb and forefinger on each side of the lower beak. Use the other hand to support the lower body by holding the legs and wings together.

Taming proceeds in steps. Your first goal is to get the parrot to accept a treat from you. This will lead to it allowing you to gently scratching its chest.
    Next is hand taming, where your macaw will climb on your hand and allow you to carry it around. You can accomplish this by offering it treats from outside the cage until it is comfortable with your hand. As your macaw becomes comfortable with taking treats from your hand, you then open the cage door and repeat the same process but now you are reaching into it's cage with the treat. Once you've earned it's trust, your macaw will begin climbing on your hand and allowing you to pet him.
    Depending on the tameness of the bird, these two steps can be instantaneous as in a handfed baby or take several weeks or longer for an untamed bird.

Once your Macaw has gotten over its shyness, then you can work on speech and trick training. Although a macaw is not as good a talker as the African Grey or even the Amazon Parrots, they often will respond because of their desire for attention and affection. Repetition and frequency are the keys here. They can be trained to do tricks from riding bikes to doing balancing acts.

As macaws grow into and through adolescence they become more boisterous, mischievous, and difficult to handle. They must be handled with confidence during this time to keep their respect. Never allow bad behavior to develop. Otherwise they can become untrustworthy as a pet. This is often non-reversible and they will then need to be reserved for breeding rather than as a pet.

There several excellent training videos that can be found online with a simple search. They can be helpful as a guide for training.

Macaw Activities:
Exercise and play are important activities for the physical well being and psychological health of your parrot. These activities help deter distress and prevent the problems of screeching and feather picking.

Although they are quite affectionate and cuddly, macaws are also very boisterous and need a large area to exercise. Outdoors is ideal if you have a secure enclosed space for them or train your macaw to wear a harness. Great climbers, they will explore all over their enclosure, sometimes hanging by their toes from the top.

Macaws are vigorous chewers and will chew on anything within reach. They can be quite destructive to household items and woodwork, so if you keep them on a playpen make sure nothing valuable is within reach. Provide lots of fresh non-toxic tree branches for them to chew up. Also make sure to give your macaw lots of toys and activities in the form of large link chains, bird ladders, parrot swings, ropes, wood toys for gnawing and chewing, and rotate new bird toys on a regular basis.

Macaw Care/Feeding:
Proper bird care for Macaws involves more than just the Macaw diet. The lists below cover Macaw foods and supplements as well as details about feather maintenance with bathing and grooming.

Macaws are a very high energy bird and for good health they will need plenty of good foods rich in oils and calories. In the wild the larger Macaws eat a variety of palm nuts while the smaller Macaws eat seeds, nuts and fruit. Each macaw, depending on its size, will eat about 1/2 - 3/4 cup of parrot mix and about 1/2 - 3/4 cup of fruit and vegetables.

Foods available for Macaws include formulated diets, either pelleted or extruded, seed only diets, and parrot mixes which offer a mixture of both. There are pros and cons to feeding only a formulated diet as well as feeding only a seed diet.
A formulated diet provides a good nutritional base so does not require the addition of vitamins, however it does not contain the phytonutrients (antioxidant pigments) that are found in vegetables, fruits, grains, and seeds. Phytonutrients are believed to boost the immune system, help a body to heal itself, and to prevent some diseases.
        Also, parrots can become bored with it due to the lack of variety.
A seed only diet offers much more variety but requires additional vitamin and calcium supplements. Macaws need not only nutritional requirements met but also variety for psychological enrichment.

A Macaw diet consisting of a good parrot mix which includes formulated foods, a variety of seeds, dried fruits, and nuts is generally regarded as a suitable base to provide nutrition and variety. Along with this, provide a daily supplement of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Supplemental foods include all types of fruits such as apples, pears, plums, cherries, grapes, oranges, bananas, mangos, papayas, and even berries such as strawberries and blueberries are enjoyed. Many vegetables including carrots, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, dark green leafy veggies, many garden vegetables, and even dandelions and chickweed are good.

Do not feed avocado, it is toxic to birds!
Offer nuts for treats, such as macadamias, walnuts, pecans, almonds, and filberts.
Additional proteins can be offered such as sprouted legumes and cooked chicken or meat.
Grit is not considered essential as macaws will shell their seed before eating it.
Give your macaw fresh drinking water every day.

The personal hygiene of your Macaw includes a regular bath or shower for good plumage and skin condition. One way to accomplish this is with either a hand held shower sprayer or a hose with a fine spray head and lukewarm water. Inexpensive hand held pump sprayers found in the garden area of most stores is an easy way to spritz your macaw if they won't go in the shower.

The wings should be kept trim if you want to discourage flight and to prevent the loss of your pet through an open window or door. Clip most of the primaries (10 feathers closest to the wing tip) and only enough so the bird can glide to the floor.
The beak needs to be trimmed if it becomes overgrown or deformed. There are many mineral blocks, lava blocks, and other beak grooming items available at your pet store to help your bird keep its beak in shape.
A variety of concrete type perches are also available to help the keep nails trim, but they should be trimmed if they become overgrown. Beaks and nails can also be trimmed at your vets if your macaw will not allow you to do this when they don't keep them worn down on their own.

Macaw Habitat:

A Macaw cage must accommodate a very large parrot. Provide the largest bird cage possible. A macaw must be able to fully extend its wings without touching the sides of the cage. The largest macaw, the Hyacinth Macaw, has a wing span of 3 - 3 1/2 feet. Macaws must also be able to move freely between two perches or muscular dystrophy can occur which will render it unable to fly.

Another very important consideration is that macaw cages be very durable. These birds are very strong chewers. Macaws are also very good at opening cage doors, so be sure the cage has locks or escape-proof latches.

Perches can be made from dowels and natural branches. Just be sure the branches if you choose to use these have not been sprayed with pesticides. The branches need to have some areas that are about 3/4" in diameter, and even bigger diameter areas for larger macaws. Varying the size of the perches helps keep their feet healthy.

It works best to have the dishes hanging from the side for feed and water. Try to place the perches away from dishes so the food and water dish do not become soiled with bird droppings. Do not use plastic because your bird will chew and break the plastic and it can become hazardous.

A moveable play perch is ideal for playtime outside of the cage. It is basically a large, free-standing perch with food and water bowls, and places to hang toys from. Commercially made Macaw playpens usually have a tray under them as well, to catch anything dropped to the floor.

Playthings can be such things as climbing ropes, chains, bells, parrot swings and wooden or other bird toys. Destructible toys are good because they are "interactive" so help relieve boredom, yet non-destructible toys will last longer. Macaw toys can be expensive. There are bird sites that sell toy parts for those who want to make their own.
Because macaws are very loud, the amount of noise and the closeness of neighbors should be considered when determining where to keep you bird. Macaws are very social and inquisitive, so the room you house your pet in can be a room that gets visited frequently by the family. Place the cage at eye level in a quiet sunny area away from drafts.

An outdoor aviary needs to have a protected shelter that can be heated and cooled where necessary, be well lit and ventilated, and have an attached flight cage if the macaw is to be housed in it year round. The flight should be long with a hardwood perch at each end. A climbing branch and a bird bath are nice additions too. Macaws are quite strong chewers, so the aviary needs to be of sturdy construction. Framework is generally constructed of brick or metal.

A room dedicated to house a Macaw is not necessary, but can be nice. It is especially nice if you have two or more large parrots that are compatible. It needs to have perches for standing and climbing, places for toys, and mounted food, water and treat dishes. Make sure the room is "bird proof". Macaws will chew on anything they can get their beaks around. If there is molding, trim, or window sills, they will all get destroyed. Carefully scrutinize the room to make sure anything the Macaw can chew on is safe, like no electrical cords, painted surfaces need to be lead free, and make sure any trees or plants are not toxic.

The basic cage care includes daily cleaning of the water and food dishes. Weekly wash all the perches and dirty toys. The floor should be washed about every other week. A total hosing down and disinfecting of an aviary should be done yearly. Replace anything that needs to be freshened such as old dishes, toys, and perches.

I have 4 macaws, three currently at home and one that will come home in Oct. Each of my 3 macaws have different personalities and similarities. Two are hybrids, Catalinas which are a cross between the Blue & Gold and Scarlet. One is a Green Wing and the one that is not home yet is a Blue Throated macaw. Macaws are the clowns of the parrot world and have been described as monkeys with wings. That pretty much describes 2 of mine.

Please feel free to share your experiences living with the big kids of the parrot world.  :bounce:

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Parrot Trooper

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« Reply #1 on: August 18, 2014, 08:10:33 am »

What a fantastic post, De! You have gone to alot of trouble on this one and have included some great info  thumb
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Codie, Yellow Crowned Amazon
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« Reply #2 on: August 22, 2014, 02:09:28 am »

Thanks Wendy. Soon you will be posting your experiences with your Macaw Fabie here.  :grin:
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« Reply #3 on: August 22, 2014, 02:59:11 am »

Thanks Wendy. Soon you will be posting your experiences with your Macaw Fabie here.  :grin:

Haha, I was thinking that when I read your post  smile3
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