The harlequin macaw is a beautiful, popular hybrid parrot that makes an excellent pet for the right person. Macaws are needy birds, requiring experienced or dedicated parrot handlers. This full-sized macaw tends to do well with families; these birds thrive on socialization and a lot of interaction with other birds or people. They are good talkers, friendly, and have rather amusing personalities.
Common Name: Harlequin macaw
Scientific Name: Hybrid Ara chloropterus x Ara ararauna
Adult Size: 35 and 40 inches long, weighing 2 to 3 1/2 pounds
Life Expectancy: 50 years, some may reach up to 80
Origin and History
The word "harlequin" has two meanings that are very appropriate for this bird. In one sense, it refers to a joker or clown, which perfectly reflects its personality. It can also mean "variations of color and pattern," an apt description for this beautiful, rainbow-colored parrot.
Only bred in captivity, it is very rare to find harlequin macaws in the wild. This bird is known as a first-generation hybrid because it comes from two "true" species of macaw, the blue and gold macaw and the greenwing macaw. The result is a bird with the coloring and characteristics of both parent birds.
The harlequin is also crossed with other true and hybrid macaws to produce second-generation hybrids. The most common macaws that have the harlequin's genes include:
- Fiesta macaw: Crossed with a Camelot macaw
- Harligold macaw: Crossed with a blue and gold macaw
- Harlequin x shamrock macaw: Crossed with a shamrock macaw (hybrid)
- Jubilee macaw: Crossed with a greenwing macaw
- Maui sunrise macaw: Crossed with a Catalina macaw (hybrid)
- Quatro macaw: Crossed with a ruby macaw (hybrid)
- Tropicana macaw: Crossed with a scarlet macaw
Hybrids like the harlequin macaw are "the best of both worlds." The parent species of the harlequin usually have laid-back, affectionate personalities with good speech abilities and high intelligence. They can be taught fun tricks like waving, dancing, fetching, and more.
While no two birds are the same, they're generally described as fun, friendly, and somewhat comical. Socialized with people from the start, these macaws will likely enjoy the company of many different individuals throughout their life. You do not want your birds to become one-person birds or develop a preference for either men or women, which can happen if they have limited exposure to one or the other.
A harlequin macaw will have moments of frustration and become cranky. Yet, it is an excellent choice for those who would like a large bird with an even temper and calm demeanor.
Speech and Vocalizations
All parrots tend to be loud, but macaws are the poster-birds for ear-shattering vocalizations. If you don't want your parrot to awaken you early every morning by screaming at the top of its lungs, do not get a macaw. (On the upside, you will never miss an early morning flight if you have one of these birds as an alarm clock!) Also, if you are looking for a conversational parrot, macaws are the way to go. These birds can develop a vocabulary of 15 or so words with training.
Harlequin Macaw Colors and Markings
Harlequin macaws have a wide variation in their colors and patterns. They are often mistaken for Catalina macaws, which are another hybrid with similar coloration.
A harlequin's coloring depends mostly on if the blue and gold or greenwing was the male parent. Males have dominant genes. This difference is most prevalent in the color of a harlequin's breast and belly. With a blue and gold father, the breast will be red-orange. If the father is a greenwing, the breast feathers will be a lighter orange.
Most harlequins have striking tones of green and blue on their backs. They also tend to have gold feathers on the underside of their tail feathers. Males and females look the same, and without genetic or surgical sexing, it's nearly impossible to know the sex of harlequins.
Caring for the Harlequin Macaw
Harlequin macaws require a lot of socialization and handling, so expect to spend time with the bird daily. A macaw that becomes bored or feels neglected can act out by biting, destroying things around the house, or resort to self-mutilation and feather plucking.
These birds need a large cage that is at least 5-foot square and 8-foot high placed in a draft-free location. It should include a perch and plenty of stimulating toys to keep it occupied while confined. The cage needs to be cleaned at least every two months or more often if it gets soiled quicker. Your bird will appreciate water to bathe in as well as occasional misting.
Before rushing out to buy a harlequin macaw, think seriously about the commitment involved in keeping such a bird. Not only can these birds live for five decades or more, but the costs of veterinary bills, high-quality feed, toys, and cages add up quickly. If you feel that you wouldn't be able to provide a bird with the best of everything, consider holding off on adopting one until you can.
Common Health Problems
Generally speaking, if you take good care of your macaw, it will remain healthy. However, even with the best hygiene, some diseases can still occur. There are also behavioral problems that they can develop. If your bird gets bored or feels neglected by you, it may resort to feather plucking or skin picking.
Some of the more common illnesses seen in macaws:
- Proventricular dilation disease, a digestive system condition also called macaw wasting disease
- Psittacosis, a bacterial infection also called chlamydiosis or parrot fever
- Bacterial, viral, or fungal infections
- Beak malformations in chicks
Diet and Nutrition
Macaws are a very high energy bird. For good health, they will need foods rich in oils and calories. In the wild, macaws eat a variety of palm nuts, seeds, and fruit.
Feed harlequin macaws a diet that includes a high-quality seed and formulated pellet mix. It's also important to include daily servings of fresh bird-safe fruits and vegetables. Each macaw, depending on its size, will eat about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of parrot mix and about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of fruit and vegetables per day. It will also need fresh drinking water every day.
Provide a variety of fruits on a rotating schedule, such as apples, pears, plums, cherries, grapes, oranges, bananas, mangos, papayas, and even berries, such as strawberries and blueberries. Feed vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, dark green leafy veggies, many garden vegetables, and even dandelions and chickweed. Never feed avocado; it is toxic to birds.
To make food prep more manageable, you can make the fruit and vegetable salad ahead of time and portion out each day's rations using the "chop" concept.
Pet parrots are prone to obesity and harlequin macaws need plenty of exercise. Activities help maintain their physical health and provides much-needed mental stimulation as well. You can keep your harlequin macaw occupied by handling it daily and providing it with plenty of toys.
Prepare to set aside a minimum of 2 to 4 hours per day for the supervision of the bird while it plays outside of its cage. In addition to preventing weight gain, adequate exercise helps stave off boredom.
Outside of the cage, a sturdy play stand can become your bird's favorite place to hang out. It may take a few times to remind it that this is where it needs to be, but the birds are smart and can pick up on it quickly. It will enjoy the view and be able to feel part of the family.
They thrive on being part of a flock (in this case, your family); it's a good idea to try to include your bird in as many family activities as possible.
Social and friendly
Intelligent and can speak up to 15 words
Can be loud, so not well-suited for apartments
Needs 2 to 4 hours of supervised, out-of-cage time
Where to Adopt or Buy a Harlequin Macaw
Pricing for harlequin macaws ranges from $3,500 to $5,000, depending on if the bird is hand-tamed and the reputation of the breeder. As this bird is a long-lived bird, you may find this bird listed by adoption agencies and rescues. These birds may outlive their original owners, and living situations change for some owners who can no longer care for their macaw.
If you're going the breeder route, make sure that the breeder is reputable by asking how long they've been breeding and working with macaws. When selecting your bird, look for the signs of a healthy bird, such as bright eyes, clean feathers, and full crops.
More Pet Bird Species and Further Research
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Otherwise, check out all of our other macaw species profiles.