Large, beautiful and sociable, the macaws are the typical bird one thinks of when they hear the name “parrot”. They have large beaks, long tails, and can be found in a variety of colors. Originating from South America, macaws include about 19 different species, some of which are extinct or critically endangered. Many different hybrids exist as well in the pet trade and some even in the wild. Zazu, our hospital mascot, is a hybrid known as a Catalina macaw.
Living with these large birds requires an individual to have a large cage, plenty of space for out of the cage time, and a tolerance for noise. Although, macaws aren’t vocalizing all day long, they do like to call out at different times of the day and their owners must be willing to accept that this is just their nature. It is also important to know that their large beak can do damage to whatever they decide to chew on so keeping valuable items out of reach is necessary.
As with other species, it is important to keep macaws occupied with numerous toys and other activities throughout the day. Teaching a bird to forage for its food items can be very stimulating and help to avoid certain behavioral disorders. More on foraging can be found here. They are many toys available for macaws at pet stores. In particular, macaws tend to enjoy chewing on large blocks and pieces of wood. Homemade toys can also be used as a lower cost way of adding some stimulating objects for them to explore. People can explore their creative side by making items such as boxes, cardboard paper towel rolls, and cleaned out plastic bottles into various types of toys.
Cage set-up requires that a macaw have numerous size perches with variable width and texture. Wooden dowel perches should not be used as the only type of perch otherwise issues like bumblefoot (pododermatitis) can occur. Natural wood perches like manzanita, java and dragonwood branches can be used. Cotton and sisal rope can be used as well. Pumice perches can be used to help keep nails trim but must be used cautiously. It is best to have only one pumice perch in the cage and keep it in a location where the bird will not stand on it the majority of the day. Sand paper perches should be avoided.
Getting exposure to ultraviolet- B radiation is recommended for all birds. This type of radiation allows for a bird to naturally make vitamin D3 in its body. This is then utilized to allow for calcium absorption from the diet. Everyone knows that calcium is important for a healthy skeleton but it is also necessary for many other functions in the body. Egg laying, muscle contractions, and normal nervous system function all rely on adequate levels of calcium in the body. Birds can get exposure to ultraviolet-B radiation by being exposed to unfiltered sunlight. This means getting a bird outside in direct sunlight. Glass windows filter out all this important ultraviolet-B radiation. A bird should be monitored closely while outdoors however to ensure it does not over heat or fly away. If you do not have a safe way to give your bird access to unfiltered sunshine, a safe alternative is to provide a lamp that emits ultraviolet-B, such as Zoomed's Avisun 5.0. These lights should be 12-18 inches from the bird and used for around 6 hours a day.
Macaws require a healthy diet just like other birds. It is recommended that the majority of the diet be in the form of a pellet. Fresh vegetables, fruits and grains should make up the remainder. To learn more about general diet recommendations for psittacines click here. Macaws may require a little more protein than other species of psittacines. You can offer them a variety of nuts to help supplement this need. Offering nuts in the shell is a great way to give the bird a little more foraging activity. Some healthy nuts to offer include walnuts, almonds, and cashews. If you are switching your macaw to a pellet diet and need some help please refer to our handout on tips for diet conversion here.