Illiger's Macaw (Blue-Winged Macaw)

A Mini Macaw That Is Compassionate and Demanding

Illiger Macaws
MrTMan / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Beautiful, playful, and charming, the Illiger's macaw has grown in popularity as a pet. Also called the blue-winged macaw, this may be a small parrot, but they do require an owner who has plenty of time to spend with them. As an extremely social bird, they simply want to be part of the family and will take well to training.

Most people choose a mini macaw species because they think they can't handle a larger bird.

While the Illiger's macaw might be considered a mini, they act just like the big guys!

Common Names

Illiger's Macaw, Illiger's Miniature Macaw, Blue-Winged Macaw

Scientific Name

Ara maracana or Primolius maracana

Origin and History

The range of the Illiger's macaw is toward the southern part of central South America. This includes the forests and woodlands of central and eastern Brazil into northern Argentina, encompassing most of Paraguay along the way.

The birds thrive on palms and are often found in the trees near or surrounded by water. Palms are their favorite food source and provide plenty of protection to the birds as well. 

Social by nature, wild Illiger's are frequently seen in pairs or small flocks. They enjoy the company of other parrots, too, including many species of macaws and conures.

Unfortunately, Illiger's populations in the wild are threatened and the species is endangered. Much of this has to do with habitat destruction, including the conversion of land to agriculture.

For many farmers, they're seen as pests because the grains in the fields have become a substitute for their disappearing natural food sources. 

Hunting and trapping have done further damage to the Illiger's macaw numbers. Many are intended for the pet trade and it has been common for baby macaws to be taken from their nest.

Even more unfortunate has been the lack of proper care these young parrots receive from their captors and many die or are neglected before finding a new home.

Size

The Illiger's macaw is a medium-sized bird, reaching average lengths of 15 to 17 inches from the beak to the tip of the tail feathers. Over half of the bird's length is comprised of its long, colorful tail. A healthy weight for an adult Illiger's is between 9 and 10 ounces.

Average Lifespan

Properly cared for, a pet Illiger's macaw can live up to 45 years. Some have been reported to live even longer.

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.

Many people note that the connection is so strong that the bird will mimic the person's emotions. If their owner is sad or happy, the bird will often follow suit. It's important to try and maintain an even temperament yourself if you want that to reflect in your rather compassionate bird.

The 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 peaks their interest or sit on a shoulder to see what you're doing.

Their curiosity and quick wits 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 vocalize. Their 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.

However, they are described as moderate talkers and some individuals will learn a number of words. This can also play into their clown-like personality and surprise their owners with somewhat 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 the birds' 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 this will develop over the years.

Caring for an Illiger's Macaw

The Illiger's macaw is a very social species that thrives on interacting with their human flock. Those interested in owning an Illiger's should make sure that they have lots of time to spend with their new bird so he doesn't become bored, angry, and destructive.

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

Illiger's macaws are known to be powerful chewers. This could translate into damage to doors, windowsills, and expensive molding if the bird is ignored, neglected, or allowed to become bored.

Pet Illiger's macaws should be given plenty of safe-bird toys to keep their minds occupied and ensure their happiness. A bored or sad macaw is no fun to be around, and owners will quickly learn that these birds can and do hold grudges if they feel like they've been mistreated.

There is usually a stage in an Illiger's life when he will become nippy. Proper training with positive reinforcement is key to making this phase pass as quickly as possible. Many owners find it best to ignore the nips, remove their hand, and distract the bird. Even setting him back in his cage or on his play stand a few times will teach him that the little bites are not acceptable.

These birds also need to fly. They are acrobats in the air with graceful movements unseen in other parrots.

This means that they must be given a cage that is large enough to accommodate some flight and be allowed time out of it. Consider the largest cage you can afford—a quality one will last the bird's lifetime—with a minimum measurement of 3 by 4 feet and at least 4-foot tall.

Before going out to buy your Illiger's macaw, consider the costs of owning a pet like this. Prices of veterinary bills, high-quality feed, toys, and cages can add up quickly. If you can't provide your bird with the best of everything, consider waiting to adopt one until you can.

Illiger's macaws are not as widely available in the pet trade as other mini macaws. You may have to do some hunting to find this bird and will want to spend some time with any that you're considering adopting. They can be temperamental, so you want to ensure that yours has been well cared for in order to avoid potential behavioral issues based on his past experience.

Feeding an Illiger's Macaw

Illiger's macaws in the wild eat a diet that is higher in fat than other macaw species. Their energy level burns a lot of calories, which needs to be accounted for in their diet. Their favorite foods come from all parts of the palm and their big beaks are designed to crack open palm nuts. They will also eat green vegetables, grains, seeds, nuts, and a great variety of fruit.

To mimic this successfully, feed your Illiger's a diet consisting of a high-quality seed and pellet mix and plenty of fresh bird-safe fruits and vegetables. Making sure that the bird has a varied diet that includes fresh foods will put him on the path to optimal nutrition.

And variation is key because they naturally eat whatever's available and may become bored with the same foods every day. Illiger's are known to be picky eaters at times and it's good to keep them excited about new things. Do avoid avocado, chocolate, coffee as these are toxic to parrots, and ensure he always has fresh water.

Exercise

The Illiger's macaw is a bird on the move, so owners need to pay particular attention to exercise. Not only will plenty of exercise help the bird stay healthy, it will provide vital mental stimulation that is essential to these intelligent birds.

Potential owners should plan to allow their Illiger's macaw a minimum of two to four hours playtime outside of the cage per day. This will allow your bird to stretch both his muscles and his mind—two essential components of a healthy, happy pet parrot.

A play stand adorned with toys will help with training and become your bird's home away from home when out of the cage. Because of their chewing habits, it's also good to keep an eye on your curious parrot to avoid destruction to items in your home.

Toys should be stimulating, varied, and rotated often. Preventing boredom cannot be stressed enough when it comes to Illiger's, so pamper your bird with all the toys he wants. Wood is an excellent choice because it exercises that large beak and offers an outlet for his chewing instincts. Leather, beads, and ropes will also be welcomed playthings for this comical macaw.

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.