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Caring For Your Pet Macaw

Exotic Animals

Basic Husbandry

General Information

Vital Statistics

  • Body Weight: 120g-1700g

  • Body Size: 20 inches to 42 inches

  • Life Span: 20-50+ years

Species Specifics:

  • Most species tend to be big, loud, and demanding

    • They are incredible shrieks, screamers, and callers

    • They can also be decent talker, as they have clear articulation but sound nasal when speaking

  • They are intelligent birds and require attention and toys to keep them busy

Handling and Grooming

  • If the bird has been properly socialized by raising it in a nurturing environment with other birds and people, it should adjust well to its surroundings.

    • They must be socialized at a young age and exposed to a variety of experiences (veterinary visits, other pets, visitors, wing and nail trims, car rides) to avoid fearful behavior.

  • Most young, hand-raised macaws are very adaptable and easily handled by many people. Begin by teaching your bird to “step up” onto your finger, and allowing it to become comfortable with you.

  • Toweling large birds is the safest method of restraint.

    • Cover the bird with the towel and use the thumb and middle finger at about ear level to grasp the head while the index finger can go over the head.

    • Lift the bird up and wrap towel around its body.

    • The towel should be at the bird's mouth level giving it something to chew on.

  • Routine misting or showering is vital to maintaining good plumage and skin condition. Many macaws enjoy being sprayed with a hand sprayer or mister from the hose. Make sure not to soak them and to keep them away from drafts as they dry.

  • In most cases (especially for new bird owners) it is advised to have their wings clipped. This helps in avoiding possible injuries and unintentional free flights.

  • Keeping their nails trimmed regularly allows easier (and less painful) handling of your bird, as well as making it easier for them to perch and climb. This also helps keep their nails from getting caught in objects or caging.

Reproductive Information

  • Preening each other and feeding each other/regurgitation are signs of breeding pairs

  • Broody behavior can looks like nest building, cage territoriality and aggression, as well as rubbing their vent again inanimate objects and people

  • Minimize reproductive behavior by:

    • Don’t groom/pet along back and under wings

    • Don’t play wrestle with the bird’s beak

    • Don’t provide a nesting box

    • Improve nutrition

    • Do not place your bird on your shoulder or head as it can result in aggression

    • Provide no more than 12 hours of light. Cover cage if necessary.

Housing

  • They need plenty of room to move around and exercise, as well as for branches and toys. Minimum size for a macaw 3 feet wide, 2.5 feet deep, and 6 feet high.

    • The wingspan on some larger birds can reach 4 feet in length, so caging should be enough for them to stretch their wings.

  • The bars should be no farther apart than ¾-1.5" to avoid any chance of injury from head entrapment. The bars should run horizontally to make it easier for the bird to climb around.

  • Use perches of several different diameters to exercise the feet properly. Avoid putting a sandpapered perch in your bird's cage.

  • If you are bothered by sharp toenails, you can try using a special terra-cotta or cement perch which will help keep nails dull without injuring your bird's tender feet.

  • Natural tree branches can also be offered for your macaw to perch and work its beak on. Branches made of apple, ash, almond, apricot, alder, peach, beech, maple and elm are all safe for your bird (as long as they have not been treated with any chemicals).

  • Kitchens are not a recommended location for your bird’s cage as they contain many hazards such as hot pans, ceiling fans, and multiple types of fumes (non-stick bakeware, household cleansers, insecticides, air fresheners).

  • Many household plants can be toxic to your bird as well so never let your macaw out of your sight when out of its cage.

  • Put the cage where there is activity; your bird is a colony bird, and lives in large flocks in the wild.

  • Keep the cage out of direct sunlight, unless it is large enough for the bird to get away from the sun.

  • Keep out of the path of drafts and away from heating cooling sources (open windows, radiators, air conditioners).

Diet

  • Provide your macaw with a well-rounded diet, and plenty of opportunity to try new things which adds variety and provides psychological enrichment.

  • Don’t try to hand-feed a very young bird unless you have experience and adequate time to devote to the task. It is safer to leave the baby with the breeder or pet store and visit frequently.

  • Start with your basic pelleted diet formulated specifically for macaws, and supplement it with anything healthy such as fresh fruits and veggies.

    • Don’t feed avocadoes – they have been associated with toxicity.

    • Most foods from the table are okay; just avoid feeding your bird anything high in salt, sugar, or grease.

    • Vegetables such as sweet potato, carrots, beets, and corn on the cob are wonderful sources of vitamins and minerals.

    • Fresh fruits such as bananas, oranges, grapes, and apples can also be included as a minor portion of their daily diet. Be aware that when fed beets, berries, or cherries the fecal matter may change in color.

  • While the bird is still young is the perfect time to introduce a wide variety of foods to its diet.

  • Macaws love seeds, even though they’re not the most nutritious foods. Seed mixes designed for macaws are available and usually contain sunflower seeds, a mixture of other high fat seeds, nuts and some dried fruits.

    • Feeding a diet composed exclusively of seeds predisposes to multiple health issues, obesity, and vitamin deficiencies. Some seeds are sold as “vitaminized,” but the vitamins are applied to the shells of the seeds, which are lost when the bird shells the seed before eating it. While it is okay to feed some seed it should make up no more than 15-20% of the diet (if possible).

  • Food and water should be placed where the bird can easily get to them, making sure to keep away from the areas under perches to avoid fecal contamination.

  • Fresh water should be provided at all times.

  • Many birds love to dunk their food, so water should be changed daily.

  • Bowls must be kept clean to prevent bacterial overgrowth and should be washed daily.

  • If on a well balanced diet, vitamin supplements are not necessary.

Enrichment

  • Macaws are innately curious and intelligent. They love puzzles, and will often work themselves right out of a locked cage.

  • Give them interlocking toys, "parrot puzzle" toys--toys with a nut or something that has to be extracted, anything which may confound them for at least an hour or two.

  • Macaws are also destructive chewers and should be given lots of chew toys.

  • Untreated lumber cut into chunks are great, and you can "dye" the pieces by soaking them in Kool-Aid (unsugared).

  • They tend to love acrobatics and appreciate a swing or a rope to twirl on or something sturdy to climb on.

    • Avoid rope toys with loops they can get their head, feet, or wings caught up in.

    • Soft plastic should also be avoided as it is easily crushed and broken by their powerful jaws and can leave sharp edges making them prone to injury.

  • Do not fill the entire cage up with toys as the bird needs room to maneuver around.

  • Rotating the toys and changing their location within the cage on a weekly basis provides variety and allows regular cleaning.

  • Place some of the toys outside of the birds’ cage as well as on a play gym or branch stand.

  • Providing a cuttlebone or mineral block is another source of enrichment and helps in maintaining a strong healthy beak.

  • Macaws need daily socialization with "their" people as well, and they love to spend time out of their cage playing with you.

    • Never leave your bird unattended when out of its cage

    • Make sure other family pets are kept separate from your bird to avoid any chance of injury.

Common Medical Conditions

Conditions Requiring Veterinary Attention

Malnutrition

  • Malnutrition is a common condition in macaws because of misinformation of dietary requirements.

  • Common conditions associated with malnutrition include low protein, low calcium and low red blood cell count.

  • Malnourished macaws may be lethargic, thin, dehydrated and are often at risk for seizures, pathologic fractures and infection.

  • Treatment involves supportive care and correction of the underlying dietary deficiencies.

Obesity

  • Obesity is common in many captive macawss fed a diet too high in fat or sugar and a lack of exercise.

  • Obesity can lead to diseases of the heart, liver and pancreas. It can also cause fat deposits to form on the eyes, especially in juveniles if the mother is fed a diet high in fat.

  • Treatment consists of increasing exercise and change in diet.

Stress

  • Stress in macaws can result in self-mutilation of feathers, legs, or wings, as well as respiratory distress, and even death.

  • Providing proper nutrition and hygiene, normal social groupings, appropriate protection from potential predatory animals can help reduce stress.

Trauma

  • Trauma, including bite wounds from dogs and cats, are common and potentially fatal injuries for macaws.

  • Macaws can also be injured by household activities such as falling from heights, chewing on electrical cords, or being stepped on.

Emergency / Critical Care

  • All emergencies require veterinary assistance. Use the following guidelines to assist you in caring for your pet until you can contact a veterinarian.

Traumatic Injuries

Broken Bones

  • Provide your pet with soft bedding such as a towel or blanket.

  • Remove all perches and place in a small container/cage.

  • Minimize handling.

  • Keep your pet in a warm, dark, and quiet area.

  • Keep your pet as calm as possible and contact a veterinarian or local animal emergency clinic immediately.

Skin Injuries/Blood loss

  • For any type of injury with blood loss, use direct pressure with a towel or clean gauze to prevent further blood loss. Contact your veterinarian immediately if you are unable to stop the bleeding.

Severe Illnesses and Other Conditions

Head Injuries and Head-Tilt

  • Provide your pet with soft bedding such as a towel or blanket.

  • Minimize handling.

  • Remove perches and place in small container/cage.

  • Keep your pet in a warm, dark, and quiet area.

  • Keep your pet as calm as possible and contact a veterinarian or local animal emergency clinic immediately.

Respiratory Distress

  • If your macaw experiences open-mouth breathing or gasping for air, remove all bedding and minimize handling and stress.

  • Keep your macaw in a comfortable, dark, and quiet environment until you are able to reach your veterinarian or local animal emergency clinic.

Egg Binding

  • If your macaw experiences any straining, sits at the bottom of the cage, is fluffed or lethargic, then it may be trying to lay an egg.

  • Eggs can also put pressure on the nerves that control the legs and cause paralysis or self-mutilation.

  • Keep your pet in a warm, dark, and quiet area.

  • Keep your pet as calm as possible and contact a veterinarian or local animal emergency clinic immediately.

  • Don’t try to pull out a visible egg.

Health Recommendations

Annual Physical

  • Always have an initial physical exam performed on any newly acquired macaw. During the exam, the doctor will check the eyes, ears, heart, lungs, and coelom. The doctor will also check the feathers and skin for external parasites.

  • You should have your pet’s fecal sample checked for internal parasites.

  • Your macaw should have an annual physical done by a veterinarian every year.

Overgrown Nails

  • Macaws may need to have their nails checked/trimmed on a regular basis. If the nails get too long, they can become caught on the cage or toys and break off causing pain and bleeding.

  • If any of the nails break off and begin to bleed, apply styptic powder, flour, or cornstarch to encourage clotting, and apply direct pressure to the nail. If you cannot stop the bleeding, contact a veterinarian.

Over-the-Counter Medication

  • Over-the-counter topical triple antibiotic ointments or any other types of over-the-counter medications are not recommended without first consulting your veterinarian.

  • Productions such as triple antibiotic ointment (for the use of minor skin injuries) can cause digestive problems if ingested and can cause digestive problems if ingested and can potentially become toxic over time.