Among the best known of all birds, the marvelous macaws fascinate both pet owners and bird breeders. Extremely intelligent, these birds quickly learn to perform dozens of tricks. This showmanship puts them in the forefront of any troop of trained parrots. As a symbol of the South American jungles, macaws are often displayed in television shows, movies, and advertising.
These birds, the largest of the parrots, are also very good talkers. What they lack in perfection of intonation they make up in sheer volume. Macaws imitate human words in an extremely nasal manner. Despite this drawback, they quickly learn a large vocabulary. Macaws don’t hesitate to show off their verbal proficiency at every opportunity. Nonsense conversations are a specialty. From a distance, it may seem as if several people are engaged in a conversation. You might believe that they are sneaking into your home. Upon investigation, it is learned that the macaw is producing all the sounds. The bird is reciting gibberish syllables with rhythms mocking human speech.
As in most of the parrot clan, the macaws definitely seem to be aware of what they are saying. ‘Hello’ is used only as a greeting. I had the pleasure of caring for an especially outgoing Green Wing Macaw, Mr. Oz. Oz, though tame with his original owner, greatly enjoyed biting me.
In an attempt to interact with him, with less blood being shed on my part, training sessions were scheduled. The first command was ‘up’. I would open the cage door and wait for the macaw to come out. A handheld perch was then placed under his chest and gently lifted. At the same time I would say, hopefully in an awe-inspiring tone, `Up’. Mr. Oz very quickly learned his lesson, climbing onto the perch when requested. In addition, whenever he wanted to come out of the cage, he started to yell, ‘Up!’ He had begun to associate ‘Up’ with coming out to play. Imitating the word was also learned. Mr. Oz also had the ability to vary the intonation. If his request was not immediately granted he would continue to repeat, ‘Up, Up’, but now pleading instead of commanding. This macaw, in a rudimentary way, was not just `parroting,’ but actually using language. Mr. Oz, like all other macaws, is extremely intelligent.
The loud voice of a macaw must be taken into consideration before purchasing the bird. Macaws easily live to be eighty years old.
Of the large macaws, you will most often see five species: the Hyacinth, the Blue and Gold, the Scarlet, the Green Wing and the Military. The Hyacinth Macaw, at nearly three feet, is the largest parrot. Extremely intelligent, beautiful, most often gentle, and rare, this macaw is very desirable. The Blue and Gold, Scarlet, and Green Wing are all extremely colorful. The Military, being basically green, lacks the gaudy colors of the other giant macaws. In personality it is the same as the others. Hybrids, crosses between species, are also very common as pets.
Macaws are large, powerful birds. Biting through a two by four piece of wood is as easy for a macaw as biting through a piece of celery is for us. Though not vicious, they often are very willful. Even confirmed biters will not bite a human as hard as the massive beak allows. A macaw delivers a good nip or pinch. As soon as it sees that it is causing pain, the macaw stops. Macaws bite people to establish dominance, not to injure.
My aunt worked in the store when I was caring for Mr. Oz. At least once a day, she would have her mind on other things and would back into this macaw’s cage. Oz would, like a bolt of lightning, swing down and nip my aunt on the derriere! Screaming, she would threaten to murder the macaw. Mr. Oz was always unperturbed. He would actually drown out her yells with his own imitation of human laughter.
Even a hand-raised baby goes through an adolescence. During this time the owner must treat the macaw with love but at the same time be firm. The bird has to learn that biting will not be tolerated. Never hit the bird. Abuse of animals or people on any level is deplorable. If your bird nips, immediately put it back in its cage and walk away. The macaw will soon learn that when it attacks a person, it will only be ignored.
Since macaws are so intelligent, their psychological needs are as important as their physical needs. Macaws are big, active birds, so they must have cages at least five feet long by five feet high by three feet wide. The only exception would be if the bird is allowed out all day, only being put in the cage to sleep. Unless your macaw is under constant supervision, this is generally not possible. Furniture, woodwork, and walls will be demolished. The bird could also injure itself with windows, mirrors, and electric wires. The best idea is to purchase the largest wrought iron cage. Toys are also important.
Macaws need things to chew. Their minds must be kept occupied. Buy only bird-safe toys. Offer nuts in the shell to your macaw, Breaking the shell is a healthy diversion. Replace the toys from time to time. Birds, like children, are always made happy by a gift of a new toy.
Manzanita wood perches are best. This attractive material is too hard to be turned into sawdust by a macaw. Though slightly more expensive than regular perches, replacement is not necessary. In this way, the value of the manzanita perches is realized and money is quickly saved.
The basic diet is a good enriched parrot mix or pellets. Macaws need a lot of fresh food. Many healthy items that you eat yourself are very good, except for chocolate or avocado. Corn, grapes and cooked beans are especially good. Some experts believe that macaws should have more protein than other parrots. Again, whatever protein source that you eat yourself, meat, dairy, or tofu, will be very good for the bird.
Don’t feed any bird monkey chow, dog foods or cat foods. These items are generally made of low quality or even tainted ingredients. When soaked, the kibbles and chow always become rancid and bacteria-laden. This spoilage happen under refrigeration, too! No matter what, other animal foods are just that — designed for other animals. Birds have their own special nutritional needs.
Macaws love nuts. Give only one per day, for nuts are high in fat.
Sometimes a macaw develops a fondness for a single food. If they are allowed, these bird might over-indulge and suffer indigestion. If your bird likes a certain item very much, don’t let him stuff himself. Give the favorite in a small amount as a treat or as a reward.