Besides being chatty and social, military macaws have a reputation for being pleasant, even-tempered pets. Ideally, they will be hand fed when they're babies, to help form a strong bond with their owners. These are curious birds, and they enjoy playing and interacting with their human "flock."
If you're interested in owning a military macaw, make sure that you have plenty of free time to spend with your new bird. You will also need the space to accommodate this large, beautiful parrot.
Common Names: Military macaw, Bolivian military macaw, Mexican military macaw
Scientific Name: Ara militaris
Adult Size: 30 inches from the beak to the tip of the tail feathers, wingspans of over 40 inches, and weighs about 2 pounds
Life Expectancy: Averages 50 years
Origin and History
Military macaws are native to Central America and South America. Their range generally extends from Mexico to Argentina, though they're not found everywhere in that area.
Unlike other parrots, military macaws tend to prefer arid lands over tropical rainforests. They can be found in open and dry forests and treelines near water. However, some of the South American populations can be found in the humid lowland forests as well as canyons and foothills.
Beyond the nominate species Ara militaris, there are two sub-species of this macaw. The Mexican military macaw (Ara militaris mexicana) is the largest and primarily inhabits Mexico. The Bolivian military macaw (Ara militaris boliviana) has a range that extends from Bolivia to northern Argentina.
The military macaw is considered "Vulnerable" on the IUCN Red List for endangered species. Though the overall population exceeds 10,000, habitat loss and trapping for the pet trade has placed some regional populations in the endangered category. Without the protections established for the entire species, the decline could become even more rapid.
Historically, the military macaw has been on record since the 1500s when Europeans invaded their native lands. The name comes from the fact that military personnel brought them back to Europe and it also alludes to their olive green coloring that resembles "military green."
This macaw is a popular species for breeding hybrid macaws in captivity. Common first generation hybrids include the calico macaw, milicinth macaw, and miligold macaw
The military macaw is a good-natured bird who is easily tamed with the right care and socialization. In the wild, they are rarely alone, living in pairs or flocks of 10 to 20 birds, and they'll bring this instinct into their home with humans. Though some can prefer one person—or even men or women—socializing them with a variety of people will help the bird be friendly to a variety of people.
These birds can be quite affectionate with the right owner, though they can be cranky at times as well. They're known to be nippy if they're not happy or well trained. It's an attribute common in macaws and many owners find that their bird's mood often reflects their own.
They can also become a "watch bird" of sorts, letting you know when something's not right around the house. For instance, they might tell you when a stranger is at the door. Military macaws do like routine, whether it's knowing when you're expected home or that it's dinner time.
Military Macaw Colors and Markings
Military macaws are mainly green, with more of a bright lime green on the head that progresses into darker and olive greens on the body. They have brilliant blue edging on their wings and a bright red tuft on their foreheads. The tail feathers include browns and reds, with a yellow-olive tint underneath.
These birds have bold black beaks and dark gray legs and feet. Their eyes are framed by the classic bare macaw facial patches, each with concentric rings of small black feathers.
It's a monomorphic species, so males and females look alike. DNA sexing or surgery are the only ways to tell which sex any individual is.
Caring for a Military Macaw
While they aren't known for being especially affectionate, military macaws that have been properly handled and socialized can become tame and easy-going companions. They might enjoy some cuddling and petting, though its best to let your individual bird take the lead and learn its personal boundaries.
Those interested in owning a military macaw should learn as much as they can about the species before bringing one home. For example, like all macaws, these birds will rise with the sun each morning, and they will shout it loud for the world to hear. This happens again in the evening. While they're generally considered one of the quieter macaws, they can screech and have a distinct croak.
In the wild, military macaws live in small flocks. In captivity, the parrot's owner becomes part of its flock, and those who want a military macaw should understand this. This is not a pet that you can buy and ignore; these birds need interaction and mental stimulation. If you don't oblige them, you will pay the price in wrecked property, sore fingers, and frustration. A bored macaw is no one's friend.
A gregarious and intelligent parrot, military macaws are a popular choice for bird shows. Training them is relatively easy with treats and they love to learn tricks. Some even become potty trained to only go in their cage. Though not as good of talkers as other parrots, this macaw can be a talkative bird and learn a handful of words and phrases.
Consider the costs of owning one of these parrots before rushing out to get one. Veterinary bills, quality feed, toys. and cages all add up. You should also clean the bird's cage on a regular schedule: once a week for perches and toys, once a month for the floor, and a thorough wash-down once a year. If you can't give your bird the best of everything, consider holding off on adopting one until you can.
The military macaw is bred in captivity quite often, so they are available for adoption. They're not as easy to find as the more colorful and popular macaws, though a good search will turn up some reputable breeders.
Feeding Military Macaws
In the wild, military macaws feast on seeds, berries, nuts, fruits, and vegetables. Pet military macaws should eat a similar diet made up of a high-quality seed or pellet mix and plenty of fresh bird-safe fruits and vegetables.
Macaw owners often find that their bird likes to join them for dinner. It's okay to feed them nutritious "people food" on occasion, including small amounts of protein like chicken. If it's healthy, natural, and generally considered "good for you," it should be good for your bird as well. The exception is avocado and chocolate, which are toxic to birds.
Like all parrots, military macaws are designed to fly several hundred miles a day. Even in captivity, exercise is important. Owners should make sure that their pets are allowed a minimum of two to four hours of play time outside of their cages every day. This gives the birds a way of stretching their wings, exercising their beaks, and will provide mental stimulation as a bonus.
The cage itself needs to be large and at least 2.5-feet by 3-feet, though larger is better. If you can create a dedicated bird room, your bird will be very happy. Be sure to include a large perch inside the cage and have a play stand for time outside his home. The military macaw may become territorial, so you might find it best to limit interaction while he's in the cage.
Bird-safe toys are a must with this and any parrot. They're active and need to occupy their time with tasks. One of their favorite activities is chewing, so wood will be your go-to, even if it's just tree branches. Swings, ropes, link chains, and bells will also be appreciated by this go-getter of a bird.
Toys are also excellent distractions for this curious parrot who may otherwise spend his time screeching, feather-plucking, or chew on things around your home.
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.
International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. Ara . 2018.militaris