Macaws are large parrots with a reputation for delivering painful bites. You may have heard horror stories about macaws biting off the fingers of their owners. If a macaw delivers a powerful bite, it can have a crushing force.
The average macaw has a bite force of 500-700 psi, with the bite of the green-winged macaw estimated to be 2,000 psi. The size of the beak and its shape enable a macaw to bite through bone and tear off a finger. Even mini macaws, such as the Hahn’s macaw, can cause bad bite wounds that need stitches and leave scars.
Well-trained parrots have no reason to bite, and even untamed macaws won’t bite without serious provocation. They aren’t aggressive birds by nature and will only bite when stressed, scared, threatened, or cornered. Even then, macaws prefer to deliver a warning bite, use defensive body language, and vocalizations to ward off threats.
Do Macaw Bites Hurt?
Macaw bites can be very painful for anyone on the receiving end of one. Depending on the amount of force the parrot uses, these bites can cause:
- Broken skin
- Deep gashes that require stitches
- Swelling and redness
- Bacterial infections
- Cracked or broken bones
- Permanent scarring
Before reaching their full biting force, macaws will nip or warn you. These are designed to ward off threats and give the parrot time to escape. Macaws will rarely bite you.
This is the most frequent type of bite. It’s nothing more than a quick, piercing snap of its beak that doesn’t hurt too much or break the skin.
At the most, a warning bite will sting, causing you to retract your hand. The parrot’s true intention was never to hurt you but to communicate with you. It’s stressed, afraid, or feels threatened.
Nips aren’t always aggressive. In fact, they can be harmless body language that parrots share in the wild. The only difference is that feathers protect them while your fingers contain delicate skin, bones, and nerves.
This bite may sting. Before nipping at you, the parrot may nudge your skin tentatively with its closed beak. If you ignore it, the macaw will then open its mouth and catch the skin with the tip of its beak.
When nips become aggressive, they’re known as piercing bites. This involves the macaw using only the tip of its beak to apply force when biting you.
Depending on how much force the parrot applies, the bite can puncture the skin and draw blood. The bite will sting, but the total surface area of the wound will be small.
Macaws use piercing bites when their warnings aren’t heeded. If your parrot has already hissed, fluffed its feathers, and snapped at you, this bite will be issued for testing its boundaries.
This may be the most painful macaw bite that you can receive from a macaw. Because of the curved shape of its beak, the tip can get stuck deep in the skin when the parrot delivers its bite. The macaw will also use a greater amount of force and latch on tight.
While trying to dislodge the beak, the tip will pull at the skin, often tearing it open. This can leave a painful, gaping wound. Skin that’s torn from a macaw bite often needs stitches. Before that, you’ll need to disinfect the wound as bacteria will be smeared deep inside from the parrot’s inner mouth.
If the macaw latches onto you with most of its beak, it can apply a crushing bite. The powerful grip allows the parrot to use most of its jaw strength. This will be painful and leave long-term damage. However, given the severity of the bite, your body may not register the pain right away.
If the macaw bites down on a large section of your finger, bones may crack or even shatter. If the macaw doesn’t let go, the resulting struggle could rip the finger clean off.
Macaws rarely deliver crushing bites. Your parrot will need to feel that its life is in danger and that all its warnings (hissing, lunging, etc.) fell on deaf ears.
Bite Force Of A Macaw
At maximum strength, a green-winged macaw is capable of biting at up to 2,000 psi. However, that bite force isn’t shared across all types of macaws. Most macaws are recorded at biting between 500 to 700 psi.
In comparison, rottweilers have a bite of 328 psi, and humans can bite at about 126 psi. Of course, this depends on how precise the animal’s grip is. A warning bite from a macaw, using only the tip of its beak, will be far less powerful.
How Hard Can a Macaw Bite?
A macaw’s bite is so powerful that it can snap the bars of a standard cage. In fact, this species can even bite through stainless steel cages. That makes it important to train any biting habits out of your macaw. Hyacinth macaws and scarlet macaws are notorious for chewing through thick bars out of curiosity.
Biting is a defensive mechanism for parrots, but the bite force enables macaws to forage in the wild. As an example, parrots eat macadamia nuts and bone marrow scavenged in jungles or forests.
- The hard shells of a macadamia nut may require up to 300 psi to be cracked.
- Bones like the femur may require as much as 899 psi so that the parrot can acess the soft nutrients inside.
A macaw will reserve its jaw strength for these tasks. Biting defensively is a last resort.
What Is a Parrot’s Beak Made of?
The beak is primarily made up of bone and keratin. Keratin is the same protein substance that our hair and fingernails are made of. A parrot’s beak isn’t hollow; it’s made up of nerve endings and blood vessels. As such, if a parrot’s beak were to crack, it would bleed.
The keratin provides a tough outer shell that protects the beak from harm. It also gives a macaw’s bite its power since it’s rarely weaker than anything the parrot decides to bite.
Do Macaws Bite Often?
Macaws are known as the “gentle giants” of the parrot world. They aren’t aggressive or predatory birds like hawks or eagles. A macaw will only bite when it’s feeling scared or angry.
Why Does My Macaw Bite Me?
Most believe that parrots bite out of aggression, but that’s not the case. According to Veterinary Clinics of North America: Exotic Animal Practice, wild parrots don’t bite when fighting each other. This shows that parrots don’t bite due to any inherent aggressiveness but due to external factors that drive them to it.
Some behavioral issues can be resolved with training and better care, such as jealousy and stress. However, according to Applied Animal Behavior Science, how a parrot is fed and cared for while growing up affects its behavior as an adult. Parrots that were hand-fed are more likely to have behavioral issues than those fed by parents in the wild.
Parrots will bite out of curiosity or as a means of communication. They want to let you know that they are:
Grooming And Inexperience
A bonded parrot may care for you through preening. If your macaw is young or has never bitten you before, it might not realize its jaw strength. If it doesn’t understand that it’s causing pain, this will continue until trained to stop.
Which Parrot Has the Worst Bite?
Macaws have the most painful bite. This is due to their curved beaks, which are more likely to tear skin and puncture flesh with the tip. The sheer size of their beaks is also a notable factor.
While a green-winged macaw has the most impressive bite force, at 2,000 psi, this isn’t the case for all macaws. If we consider a standard bite, then the hyacinth macaw applies the most consistent force.
Hyacinth macaws are the largest parrot species in the world. From the tip of its tail to the top of its head, it averages about 3.3 feet long. A hyacinth macaw’s beak is massive in comparison to those of other parrot species.
Cockatoo vs. Macaw Bite
There is much debate in the parrot community over which parrot has the worst bite. For those who’ve received bites from both macaws and cockatoos, most will say that a cockatoo’s bite is worse.
However, this isn’t because cockatoos have more powerful bites or stronger beaks. It’s reported that larger cockatoos have a bite strength of 350 psi. Cockatoos are very possessive and show more aggression than macaws. When they get angry, annoyed, or jealous, they put more force into their bites than a macaw.
Cockatoos also bite more frequently than macaws. When they do, they’re less likely to hold back. A healthy and happy macaw is unlikely to bite someone with full force, so cockatoo bites seem worse.
What to Do If a Macaw Bites You
If a macaw bites you, the first step is to remain calm. That’s easier said than done, but any outbursts or negative behavior directed toward the parrot might:
- Make the parrot latch on tighter
- Cause the parrot to thrash, making the wound deeper
- Stress out the parrot, making it more prone to biting a second time
- Break trust with the parrot, so that it’s wary of you in the future
If the parrot has latched on, remain still. The macaw will let go in short order and may want to retreat to a safe place. Once the parrot has released its grip, treat the bite like you would any other injury.
- If blood has been drawn, wash it with antibacterial soap and rinse with clean water.
- Talk to your doctor about any antibiotic medication you should take
- Depending on the severity of the bite, you may need stitches
Are Macaw Bites Dangerous?
The risks associated with a macaw bite lie in where you’re bitten and how deep the wound is. When biting with all the force they can muster, macaw bites are dangerous. They are strong enough to sever fingers. Even if the bitten finger is still attached to your hand, you could lose all sensation due to the damaged nerves.
According to the American Association for Hand Surgery, exotic pet injuries need to be treated with more care due to the high risk of zoonotic diseases. This could put you at risk of:
- Psittacosis (parrot fever)
- Nontuberculous mycobacteriosis (environmental mycobacteria)
Macaws have a bite force that can lead to finger loss. The good news is that macaws are gentle-natured parrots. If you provide a living environment where your parrot feels safe and you have developed a strong bond, a macaw is unlikely to bite out of fear. Most macaws will use types of body language and less forceful bites as a warning.