There are several species of macaws in the wild but the ones most commonly seen in the pet trade are large colorful macaws. Scarlet macaws, blue and gold macaws, military macaws, and hyacinth macaws are common pet macaws because of their colorful feathers. Mini macaws are harder to find but include species such as Hahn's, noble, and yellow collared macaws.
Size of Macaws
The larger macaw species range from about 20 inches (military macaws) up to 42 inches (hyacinth macaws) including their long tails. Mini macaws are more manageable at 10-20 inches in length but all species of macaws need very large enclosures to stretch, and ideally, fly.
Lifespan of Macaws
Some macaw lifespans range from 30-50 years if not more. Mini macaws have a lifespan at the lower end of this range while a healthy large macaw can be expected to live 50 years or more with good nutrition and care. Many macaws are included in wills and end of life plans since they often outlive their humans, though some common diseases and poor nutrition can drastically shorten these anticipated lifespans.
Temperament of Macaws
Macaws are playful and active and they have exuberant personalities to go along with their sizes. But this also makes them very challenging pets. They require extensive amounts of time outside of their cage, ideally with space to fly, as well as constant mental stimulation. Birds are flock species and are also very affectionate so they require a good deal of time and attention from their owners or another bird to be happy. Macaws that are not regularly handled, have hormonal imbalances, drastic environmental changes, or little mental stimulation can become aggressive, territorial, destructive, and problematic. A well-cared-for macaw that received appropriate nutrition, mental stimulation, and enrichment, attention, and space makes a unique, long-lived companion that is very affectionate and loyal.
Speech and Vocalizations of Macaws
Macaws are loud and noisy. Their vocalizations can be more than some people can tolerate and they can scream when they want to. They do have the ability to say words and mimic our speech but it is not as clear as some other pet bird species. If you aren't prepared for noise then a macaw is not your ideal pet.
Macaws need a large and durable cage so be prepared to make a significant investment. Mini macaws can be kept in a cage sized for Amazons (24"x36"x48") however the larger macaws need a cage of at least 36"x48"x60". The cage must be strong enough to withstand the significant beak strength of macaws, so a stainless steel cage is a good investment. Any macaw cage is meant to keep your bird temporarily contained and safe (usually just at night or when you are not home), not for them to live their lives out of. Macaws need much more room than a cage will provide in order to explore, spread their wings, and be mentally and physically healthy. Unless you have a free-flight aviary as a "cage" plan on your macaw spending more time outside of their cage than in it.
Toys for Macaws
A wide variety of wooden toys or plain, untreated chunks of wood to chew on should be provided on a rotating basis to your macaw. Toys meant to be taken apart to get at a treat are also a good choice, as are hanging toys and toys to climb on. Macaws can be messy and destructive so heavy duty toys should always be provided so your bird doesn't find something else to chew on. Many owners opt to make their own macaw toys and utilize recyclable, yet safe, materials such as phone books and tissue boxes.
Start with a pelleted food as the basis for your macaw's diet and then supplement it with a wide range of healthy fresh foods (grains, vegetables, fruits, etc.). Pellets should make up 25-50 percent of the diet, seeds should be no more than 10 percent of the diet (as they are too high in fat), and the rest of the diet should be fresh healthy foods. Many people will offer their macaws a small portion of whatever they are eating, as long as it does not include any chocolate, caffeine, salt, or sugar (favorite items include cooked pasta, applesauce, and cereal). Nuts should be reserved as a treat.
Edited by Adrienne Kruzer, RVT