Illiger's Macaw (Blue-Winged Macaw): Bird Species Profile

Temperament, Diet, and Care Tips

Illiger Macaws

MrTMan / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Beautiful, playful, and charming, the Illiger's macaw has grown in popularity as an easily trainable pet bird. Also called the blue-winged macaw, it is a small parrot that requires plenty of attention. As an extremely social bird, it wants to be part of the family. Most people choose a mini macaw species because they think they can't handle a larger bird. However, looks can be deceiving. An Illiger's macaw looks mini but acts just like the big guys.

Species Overview

Common Names: Illiger's macaw, Illiger's miniature macaw, blue-winged macaw

Scientific Name: Ara maracana or Primolius maracana

Adult Size: 15 to 17 inches

Life Expectancy: About 60 years

Origin and History

The range of the Illiger's macaw is toward the southern part of central South America, including the forests and woodlands of central and eastern Brazil, northern Argentina, and most of Paraguay. The birds thrive on palms trees. The tree is their favorite food source and provides plenty of protection from predators and stormy weather. Social by nature, wild Illiger's reside in pairs or small flocks. They enjoy the company of other parrots species, including other macaws and conures.

The bird got its name from German zoologist Johann Karl Wilhelm Illiger, who first described the birds to the scientific community.

Unfortunately, Illiger's populations in the wild are threatened and considered an endangered species due to habitat destruction. For many farmers, the birds are considered pests. Grains and farmers' crops have become a substitute for their disappearing natural food sources. 

Hunting and trapping have done further damage to their numbers. Baby macaws intended for the pet trade are often snatched from nests. Many of these captured young parrots die or are stressed out before finding a new home. They often lack adequate care and attention. The U.S. bans the import of wild-caught birds that are endangered or threatened. This includes Illiger's macaws.

Temperament

Illiger's macaws are playful, friendly birds that enjoy human interaction. When handfed as babies and raised in loving, attentive homes, these intelligent birds will bond strongly with their owners. The connection can be so strong that the bird will mimic its owner's emotions. If their owner is sad or happy, the bird will often follow suit. As an owner, if you maintain an even temperament, you will often find it reflected in your compassionate bird.

These birds require a lot of mental stimulation, and they like to stay busy. They want to be part of the action in a home and will often wander around looking for something that piques their interest or will sit on your shoulder to see what you're doing. Their curiosity and quick wit also help them respond quickly to positive training techniques.

While Illiger's macaws aren't known to be particularly loud, they are still macaws, and they do have some vocalizations.

Speech and Vocalizations

An Illiger's call is often compared to a crow, and you can expect greetings as well as attention-getting calls when they want to play. Some owners have found the noise to be too much. They are moderate talkers, and some individuals can learn several words. They have a clown-like personality and often surprise their owners with witty responses.

Illiger's Macaw Colors and Markings

Illiger's macaws are mostly green with a bright red blaze on their foreheads. The feathers of the neck and the top of the head are a beautiful iridescent blue. They have brownish-red patches on their lower back, abdomen, and tail feathers, which are edged in a brilliant blue. In-flight, you'll see a yellow to olive green cast under their wings.

This species has orange eyes framed by the classic bare macaw facial patches. Their black beaks are large for their size, and they have flesh-colored feet and legs.

While Illiger's macaws are considered monomorphic birds, meaning males and females look alike, the males tend to exhibit more red coloration in their feathers than the females. Young macaws will not have the vivid colorings of adults, but in time, this will develop.

Caring for the Illiger's Macaw

If you are interested in owning an Illiger's macaw, make sure that you have a lot of time to spend with this bird. If it feels neglected, it will become bored, angry, and destructive. A neglected or sad macaw is no fun to be around, and owners will quickly learn that these birds can and do hold grudges if they are mistreated. Illiger's macaws are powerful chewers. An angry Illiger's can damage doors, windowsills, and expensive molding. Give Illiger's macaws plenty of safe bird toys to keep them occupied and enriched with activity.

If possible, consider adopting two birds. They can keep each other company and busy, which can do wonders for the birds' well-being. More than most parrots, the Illiger's thrives in a captive pairing. They also do well in aviaries with other species, so a second Illiger's is not entirely necessary.

During its development, it will have a nippy phase. Proper training with positive reinforcement is key to making this phase pass as quickly as possible. You can ignore the nips, remove your hands, and distract the bird. Or when a bird bites, put the bird back in its cage or on its play stand to teach it that nipping does not get rewarded with time with you.

These birds also need to fly. They are acrobats in the air with graceful movements unseen in other parrots. They need a cage that is large enough to accommodate some flight. Consider the largest cage you can afford—a high-quality one that can last the bird's lifetime—with a minimum measurement of 3 by 4 feet and at least 4-feet tall.

Before getting an Illiger's macaw, consider the high cost of ownership. The veterinary bills, high-quality feed, toys, and cage expenses add up quickly. If you can't provide your bird with the best of everything, consider waiting until you can.

Also, think about spending some time with a bird that you are considering for your home. They can be temperamental. Try to detect if the bird has potential behavioral issues before bringing it home with you.

Common Health Problems

In the wild, this species lives for about 40 years. However, with proper care in captivity, Illiger's can live about 60 years. Illiger's are susceptible to the same diseases as other macaws. These illnesses include proventricular dilatation disease (nervous system disorder), psittacine beak and feather disease (a deadly viral infection), psittacosis (a bacterial disease), beak malocclusion (beak misalignment), and aspergillosis (a fungal infection).

Diet and Nutrition

Illiger's macaws in the wild eat a diet that is higher in fat than other macaw species to meet their high-energy needs. Their favorite foods come from all parts of the palm, and their big beaks can crack open hard palm nuts. Since this bird can burn a lot of calories, it should have a high-quality, nutritious diet to meet its caloric needs. They also eat green vegetables, grains, seeds, nuts, and a great variety of fruits.

Feed your Illiger's a diet consisting of high-quality seed and pellet mix and a varied mixture of fresh bird-safe fruits and vegetables daily. Any fresh foods that you place in your Amazon’s cage should be taken away when feeding time is over. You can expect that the bird will eat about 10 percent of its body weight per day.

Illiger's may become bored with the same foods every day. They can become picky eaters at times. Toxic parrot foods to avoid include avocado, chocolate, and coffee.

Exercise

In the wild, the Illiger's macaw is a bird on the move. Owners need to pay particular attention to exercise. Plan to allow their Illiger's macaw a minimum of two to four hours of playtime outside of the cage every day. A play stand adorned with toys will help with training. Toys should be stimulating, varied, and rotated often. Wood is an excellent toy material for its large beak and offers an acceptable outlet for its chewing instinct. Leather, beads, and ropes will also be welcomed playthings for this comical macaw.

Pros

  • Social and friendly

  • Compassionate, can read your emotions

  • Smaller-sized bird

Cons

  • May not be as noisy, but can still get loud and may not be well-suited for apartments

  • Requires at least two to four hours of daily exercise, socialization

Where to Adopt or Buy an Illiger's Macaw

Since it is difficult to verify whether an imported Illiger's macaw is wild-caught or captive-bred, the Wild Bird Protection Act of 1992 bans the import of all Illiger's macaws to the U.S. Although they are hard to find, multiple breeding programs in the U.S. helped to proliferate the species from birds already in the U.S. before the import ban.

You may find Illiger's macaws online at a premium from $1,000 to $3,000. Check breeders, rescues, and adoption services online:

More Pet Bird Species and Further Research

If you’re interested in similar species, check out:

Otherwise, check out all of our other macaw species profiles.