April 2000 Magazine
Prospective purchasers of macaws often ask which species we believe make the best pets and which ones are more difficult to own. Macaws are near and dear to our hearts as we not only breed them, but also have a number of them as pets. In our experience, we have seen a noticable difference in personality among the various macaw species. But we have also found that all macaws MUST receive attention and love from their owners if they are to become good pets.
Out of the 17 species of macaws, we are privileged to have 11 of them at our aviary. We have been able to watch them under the SAME controlled circumstances. This allows us to judge which birds we think make good pets, which are more forgiving and which species, while lovely, should not be *pushed* as a family pet.
We do not have a lot of birds, in fact around 50 at the moment. For the most part, they came to us because they needed relocating. Some became mates/companions for birds that we had reared from babies. Some came because they were old, worn out breeders. Others were beloved pets in homes where circumstances changed. Some came because of death and some because they were feared. Whatever the reason...they came.
Consequently, not all of these birds were reared by us. Since they came to us at different ages, we do have a cross section to some degree. Some are well into the 30's and pushing 40 years old. So while we do have a cross section of ages this is mitigated by the fact that they are all here, under similar living conditions, and receive the same attention, the same interaction with us and see us interacting with our flock in the same way.
Exceptions to the rule can always be found, but it's the overall view of a macaw species that one should look at and that I am sharing with you. A good breeder normally knows how to spot how things MAY go, but it is more questionable, if the bird is very young and still being hand fed. Personalities tend to become more evident, right after the weaning process. Knowing the personalities of a chick's parents will also help quite a bit, but not one of us can give you more than a guideline.
While I can tell you how I feel a bird may react here, this same bird may be very different in your household. Each bird will differ, as do people, in their lifestyles and in the way they act or REACT to a given situation.
Since this article was inspired by someone concerned about a severe macaw, I will start with this species. In my opinion, I have never, nor will I ever, suggest anyone buy one for a family or pet quality bird. Though they may well be manageable for some people, the majority of pet owners will have problems with severes and will 'dump' them at the first opportunity - because the birds are not what they expected. These guys are hard headed, opinionated, and for the most part a one person only bird. I do not remember ever hearing of one that was a good quality pet for more than ONE person in the household. Those fortunate enough to find one of the rare ones, a sweetheart, are one VERY lucky person and I doubt any of us would have enough money to get them to part with their baby!
These statements may also be applied to the group below, but to a lesser degree. Why? Well one reason is that there are a lot of exceptions! It takes a lot of work to win the trust of these birds, but it often can be done. Most people find it easier to just pass on these species, never knowing what they have lost.
Military, Buffon and Scarlet Macaws
There are a number of nippy macaws and my list goes like this...Severe, Military, Buffon and Scarlet top my list for being nippers. Does this mean that they ALL are UN-desirable as pets? No, it means that as a general rule you want to really check them out well before purchase. These birds seem more prone to using their beaks in a forceful way to communicate.
I think you will find people who have some of these species as pets and who would never part with them (myself included). I love them dearly and the joys of having one own you far outweighs the occasional nip. However, they DO take WORK and a mind set to know what to expect and allow for or accept it.
Out of this group, when not in breeding mode, in my opinion there is not a more beautiful, smart, loving bird to be had at any price than the Scarlet Macaw! ARE they right for everyone? Absolutely NOT! It takes a special kind of person - one who is slow to anger, is understanding and calm - to handle these birds with any success. This statement is also true for all of the above species, not just the scarlets.
An interesting trait to note about these birds is if you take a close look at a scarlet you will find that they have very fine feathers on the face. Most believe that the face is clean. The feel of the facial patches on macaws makes one think of silk or the skin of a baby. In a word, they are incredibly SOFT!
Yellow Collared Macaw
The Yellow collared macaws are sweet little birds if handfed. They are normally a one person bird and can become nippy if proper discipline isn't applied early and often. They are not one of the better talking macaws, but can and do normally say a few words. I call them "spicy"! They are fun to watch and real little clowns. I have one that not only speaks, but what he say's describes the species well.... " Woop, Woop, Ti - Dooooo ! Woop ti do!"
Of course we have named him Woopie and it's really a delight to hear his mate Allie picking on him and his reply of: "Ouch!, oh! , woop ti do! wheeeeeeeeeeee!" Woopie came needing a home and is one of the rarer of the species in that he has an orange collar rather than the yellow normally seen in this species.
I think these guys would be fine as pets around older children and adults, but not with young children. They can be very loud and can be compared with the chattering of the conures. Thus they are not a good apartment bird in my opinion, even with their small compact size.
Hahn's macaws are the smallest of all the macaws and only measure around 10-11". Great little talkers, they are often confused with the Noble macaws. The difference is only a few inches in length and the color variation on feet and beaks, but the largest difference is in the personality. Both the Hahns and the Nobles are quite good at speaking, know what they are saying and how to use what they say when they mean it. The Nobles by far are a milder mannered pet and can be a bird that young children can hold, if socialized well when young. The Hahn's, though delightful, can be a tad nippy after age one, so I would not suggest them for young children.
But they are a real must if you like to laugh. They love to bounce, to roll around on top of or under a sock rolled into a ball or a waffle ball. They will nudge it and kick it just like children playing with a soccer ball. They can quite easily learn tricks and love to show off and giggle a lot, as well as give loud kisses.
Both Nobles and Hahns interact well and get along with other species (supervised). One of our fondest photos is a picture with a pair of Noble macaws fast asleep under the wings of a young Blue and Gold Macaw. Later on one of these chicks helped rear a scarlet macaw and they have remained "best friends" and can often be heard talking and asking " How are you?" and the reply just as it always has been "I gonna get you" followed by a bunch of giggles. WONDERFUL, delightful and a real must...everyone deserves at least one! Some have been reported to be a little loud, but we have never found them to be a problem.
Blue and Gold Macaw
The Blue and Gold macaw is one of the more mild tempered of the macaws and, in my opinion, a wonderful choice as a pet. This species is MUCH MORE forgiving, kind, and did I mention easy on the eyes? They have a very loving personality and will interact with more than just one member of the family, though like most birds, they will have a special person that they feel is their soul mate.
Caninde (Blue Throated) Macaw
The Caninde or Blue Throated macaw as most people prefer to call them are delightful little birds. They are much smaller than the blue and gold macaws with the blue a blue green rather than the blue-blue of the B&G's. The easiest way to tell if you are looking at a Caninde or a stunted B&G is to look at the facial feathers that make up the lines of the face. In a normal Blue and Gold Macaw, feather lines will be black, with a good sized facial patch. In the Caninde the feather lines are the same blue as the neck. The neck area is solid blue with no black. There are said to be less than a thousand left in the wilds and they are only found in two places. Their call can be a little loud but they usually only yell as a warning, or at sunrise or sunset.
Caninde's can often be seen raising the feathers on the top of their heads and blushing. It's this art of blushing that earned our male his name (Blusher). A friend allowed me to borrow the name she had picked out for her Red Fronted Macaw which also shares this unusual habit. It certainly is easy to see when they are happy or excited!
Hubby and I call the Caninde macaw the little carpenters of the macaw world. Oh what those little stinkers can DO! I have run into the house yelling for hubby to "Come quick, they did it AGAIN! Drop everything....HURRY!" It is hard to believe that anything that only measures 24" from the top of its head to the tip of its tail could get into so much mischief, so easily and so OFTEN!
These guys have taken an entire flight apart! We caught it just before it fell in on top of them. They went around and removed every single hog ring holding the flight together. Only two remained and the top would have fallen in on them. Oh, and the little Smirk on that FACE was absolutely priceless! They were just so tickled to show the papa what good little babies they were and insisted in helping, as he desperately tried to get more hog rings in place so we could rescue the little stinkers! Oh, but this was just the beginning!
We removed them to a smaller flight, one held together with nuts and bolts - a 6'x6'x4' walk in flight, half open, half sheltered. So what did these little darlings do? Why, they removed the DOOR! They are absolutely unbelievable! Once again they were so proud of their handiwork....waited patiently for papa to "discover" what a great job they had done. Once they had removed the door they went back into the cage to wait for the fun and excitement to begin. And it did... Hubby fixed the door and changed the bolts and screws.
Would you believe that they next worked 1/2"x3" galvanized wire until it broke and they could just walk out? They once again sat and waited until papa came to feed them, then walked inside, and sitting like little book ends, scratched their heads and pretended indifference and INNOCENCE!
You can give them toys with a million knots and they will remove every single one and look for something else to do. They will put little chips of wood in the door jams or string chain around so you cannot open the doors. You just never know what they WILL do!
Both are devoted and loving. They love attention, and have learned how to get it (scare mom good and she will tell dad!). They just LOVE to figure out "HOW" things work, what IF we make a change here or there. They are moderate talkers and big flirts. Canindes are sweet, loving, gentle, soft voiced and a real fun bird. A definite must for aviculturists who believe that they are "bored".
Red Bellied Macaws
The Red Bellied Macaws are just starting to be bred on a limited basis. In years past folks called them all sorts of names, made fun of them (Lepers) and ignored and shunned them until just very recently. One book I read called them dull and boring.
NOTHING, could be further from the truth. Personality alone sets them apart, even if the yellow jaundice look to the bare facial skin does not. They have a soft plaintive cry when frightened, which happens if a stranger approaches (which we have noticed is more prevalent with the wild caught birds).
For years aviculturists could not find the secret to keeping them alive. Books were filled with pages warning that they dropped dead at the drop of a hat. One article or book stated that they dropped dead when a door slammed and another when a dog barked.
No one wanted to take a chance on them. Thankfully, a few of us fell under their charms and we have been working at it. It took us 13 years of experimenting to find a good diet and to find a nest box that was suitable. Three years ago we got our first chick. I think we walked on clouds for weeks!
While the wild captured birds were very shy, the domestic have turned into one of the best mimics of the macaws. They have a clear voice with the ring of a child singing in a choir. Their voice can travel quite a distance if they are yelling for you to hear them. While working within view of the aviary I can be seen, so I get a loud greeting of "Hiiiiiiiiiiiii Babbbbbbiiiiiiiiieeeeeeeeeeeeeee!" or, "Hi, Guys!!!"
Mugwai, who was bred by Dr. Brian Speer, came to live with us doing all the sounds found in the veterinary clinic complete with baby kitten, mad cat, the howler, the cat fight....dog bark. He quickly taught the first chick we reared to join in the cat fights which drove our dogs WILD ! They in unison will delight in calling , "here kitty, kitty" and the pups of course run to look for the kitty! I do not think anyone can really say they have lived until they hear a room full of birds barking with the dog's. Kind of makes you wonder what sort of person becomes an aviculturist doesn't it?
Red Bellieds are again a small macaw right around the size of the Yellow collared ( aprox. 16"). They have varying degrees of maroon red located low on the underbelly close to the vent area. This is why they are called Red Bellied Macaws. They have an unusual coloration I can best describe as opalescent to the feathers, starting under the chin and continuing down the body where it is met by the maroon red that gives them their name. If you look closely, the feathers are tipped with a very soft powder blue which gives this otherwise mostly green bird a very charming look.
I often have called these little guys the "forgotten macaw" and we really, REALLY need to work with them to make sure they are not to become the "lost macaw". If I can put in a plug, we are looking for females to pair up with our two young males. I also have an older male looking for a mate of any age. These guys are VERY special. In the words of our little Taxz "I love ya baaby!"
Noble, Greenwinged, Red Fronted and Hyacinth Macaws
Others on the milder side may include the Noble macaw (second to the smallest of all macaws), the Greenwinged Macaw, the Red Fronted Macaw (mid size), and of course the Hyacinth Macaw, which is the mush of the macaws and also the largest in the macaw family.
The Greenwing Macaw (Red and Green macaw) is commonly referred to simply as a "Greenwing" in the United States. Greenwings, the second largest of the macaws, are distinguished from the other red macaw, the Scarlet Macaw, by the red and black facial feathers on the face. Scarlet Macaws are bare of feather lines.
Greenwings can be excellent talkers, make good pets and are tolerant of other pets in the home. Like most macaws, they require out time where they can flap and exercise their wings. They enjoy hunks of wood that they can chew up and we often offer ours hunks of a 2x4. We also use these for perches and when they chomp through them we cut up the remaining pieces into lengths, drill a hole and hang in the cage as a toy. This is a great way to cut down on waste and make use scrap wood, and a good way to help us keep our birds beaks in good shape. All birds should have wood available at all times. If you keep blocks of wood hanging in the cage your perches will last longer. A bored macaw such as the Greenwing has been known to go through a 2x4 in a day with plenty of daylight left over. This is a warning that the bird needs something to play with or out time OR ELSE .....
The Greenwing macaw is often seen in the arms of young children. They are gentle and tolerant IF socialized well. You will get out of any macaw just what you are willing to put INTO one. They are smart, loving and can be a GREAT companion!
I will never forget the lesson an older one taught me. I was seated on the floor playing with this little fella and he ran up, rolled over on his back and waited. I had did not have a clue that I was supposed to push him, so he tried to push himself with his feet. I could tell he was getting upset with me but could not figure out why. Concerned, I picked up the phone and placed a call to the previous owner and explained this odd behavior. They laughed and said he was waiting for me to shove him across the floor ...WHAT? Well, this sounded just awful, but rather than disappoint him, I thought well, just one little push which sent him a foot or so away from me. He flipped over, giggling and ran back flopping on his back waiting. It got so that this little guy could go about 4-6' yelling wheeeeeeeeeeeee! and he could do this day in and day out and never get tired. I tried to wean him from this practice fearing the friction of the tile would wear his feathers out! Never in my life would I ever have thought of this as entertainment! I introduced Paco to a sock ball and we weaned each other away from the "slide". Still I will never forget how much he loved it, nor the fact that he had to teach ME!
Red Fronted Macaws
Red Fronted Macaws are a mid size macaw and VERY social little birds who are taking aviculture by storm. These guys LOVE TO BE LOVED ! They blush, they roll on their backs, they are great talkers and they are little lovers. They go in an instant from land bound to little helicopters. Most macaws when they take a first flight almost fight the air. The Red Fronted macaws, it seems, are instant experts. They are capable of judging distances and know how to hover, speed up and slow down. So unlike most of the macaw species which must really practice to get it right.
These birds are both threatened and endangered in native habitat but they are now being bred in captive breeding situations and are available for the pet market. They are gentle, loving, great talkers and though ours have not been able to whistle, they sure can do it with word sound a-like's .
They LOVE TOYS ! They are not destructive but do enjoy chewing on wood pieces and playing with things that make them think.
These guys are really social birds and a real treat for those of us who are owned by them. I think if you really look into the eyes of these birds, well they sort of say it all.....we trust, we love. These guys are also good with children.
The Hyacinth Macaw is also called "The Majestic Macaw, The Great Macaw, The Big Blue......". By whatever name they are known, they are very impressive and quite lovely. Hyacinths are LARGE blue birds, rather striking in appearance. They have a bare facial patch in a gold/yellow color which jumps out and makes them appear to be smiling or laughing. The skin of the Hyacinth needs the sunlight to turn it gold. If looking to purchase one, check out the facial patch. A healthy bird will have a deep, rich yellow or gold in contrast to the pale yellow or light gold of an unhealthy bird.
The beaks are huge and black. The eyes are large and deep brown, almost black, and soft. At times it seems like they can see inside our soul! The side of the tongue has a stripe which appears cream or white in adolescent birds, and becomes yellow with age.
I remember being surprised that the tongues of macaws were dry, somewhat like a pencil eraser and not moist like ours. There is also a bone in it. I also learned that if they wanted to kiss with that tongue, it was a done deal no matter how fast you thought you were. Ours have taught us that they understand feelings and our moods and they understand sadness. Just TRY to be sad around one! They give new meaning to the phrase "kissing away your tears". Wrap all this up into one word.....Incredible!
Hyacinths are gentle giants, great talkers, love attention, love to dance and play games and are one of the few macaws that choose to HOP! They are something to see when you see them hopping to music. They love to sing along and though they may not get the words right, they are quite accomplished at getting the "tune".
These birds are on the endangered/threatened species lists and at last count there are more Hyacinths in captivity than there are in the wild. For years aviculturist's have worked hard to save the Hyacinth. Like many of the macaws, through captive breeding efforts we now find more and more available in captivity and they are finding their way into the pet markets.
Most macaws can be excellent talkers - even the old, who have never said a word before, ones. Motivation is the key. Talk to them. Make it fun and exciting and they will take it from there.
To correct an old myth, the size of the beak is nothing because the SMALLER the beak (in most cases) means the harder and nastier the bite, and often the more frequent. Strange as it sounds, the larger the beak, the less damage is done and the less pain is felt. This is because when a bird bites, it does not dig in and rip, but pinches and bruises. Most of the time the bite does not break the skin. Even when the skin is broken, the bites are not nearly as bad as some I have had from Amazons, or even for that matter, from a Senegal.
Bearing this in mind, if one were to judge a bird by the size of the beak alone then he would be using the wrong criteria. Give yourself the pinch test to see for yourself. Take a tiny bit of skin between your fingers and squeeze hard! Now, take a larger bunch of skin and apply the same amount of pressure. Which hurts the most and in which does the pain linger longer? It's the beak! We see this huge beak and our mind tells us, this HAS GOT TO HURT! Fear!!!
Just as human beings have rules they must follow, so should animals and birds if they are to be happy. I think we ALL need to feel a sense of security and knowing the rules can give us that. It can give our birds *confidence* which the bird may need to call on in difficult situations and which may save its life.
In the wild these rules are taught by the parents. When we bring them into our homes, they need to feel secure and accept us as head of the flock. We become the teachers just as their own parents would be if they were here. When there are rules which are understood by all, you have a happy, well adjusted pet. Just like little kids, birds will challenge authority figures if given the chance. But if there are rules and they feel secure, they have something that they can fall back on when they fail, so that they are able to grow. Example..... your first day at a new school, how did you feel? At midterm how did you feel? Did you feel confident on where to sit, what was expected, that you had friends, knew what was expected of you?
I have been heard to repeat often that a macaw is a cross between a naughty child, a dog and a cat. They can be good talkers, love to play, interact well with other animals (not known to freak out when they enter a room) and make good burglar alarms.
Macaws are devoted pets, patient most of the time if you do not push it. If you are smart, you set rules and stick by them just as you do for your dog. They not only understand, they will react in much the same ways.
Each one of these birds will test you repeatedly to see just where the line is drawn and who is to win this game, and this is what it is....a game. Enchanting, thrilling, lovely to behold...yes, all these fit our birds and when we win the heart of one, we really have won the grandest prize of all. While anyone can buy a bird, their love must be earned and given freely. That is not something you can buy, but is certainly something worth WORKING for.
If you get a macaw, it will make you wonder why you ever waited so long to get one.
Winged Wisdom Note: Bill and Sandy Harrison have been breeding many species of birds for many years. They have recently moved to Oregan from California and have encounterd a lot of flooding.
Military, Greenwing, Noble, Scarlet and Caninde Pictures Copyright ©Len Zelinski
Hyacinth and Red Fronted Pictures Copyright ©Bill and Sandy Harrison
Blue and Gold Picture Copyright ©Nancy Owens
Buffon Picture Copyright ©Sue Hartzell
Hahn's Picture Copyright © Margaret Bloodworth
Yellow Collared Picture Copyright ©Marcia Riger
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