Last Updated on February 23, 2024 by Carrie Stephens
Macaws are large parrots that can deliver dangerous bites. You’ve likely read stories about macaws severing and biting off fingers, meaning a bite can be issued with crushing force.
A macaw’s bite can exert 350-400 pounds per square inch (PSI) of pressure, enough to crack a macadamia nut. In comparison, rottweilers have a bite force of 328 psi, and humans have a bite force of 126 psi.
The beak size and hooked shape mean macaws can bite through bone and tear off fingers. That said, ripping off a finger would require repeated forceful bites, which is highly unlikely.
A macaw will only bite as hard as it can when it feels cornered or fears for its survival.
Pain Caused by Macaw Bites
Depending on the force the parrot uses, macaw bites can cause:
- Broken skin.
- Deep gashes that require stitches.
- Swelling and redness.
- Bacterial infections.
- Cracked or broken bones.
- Permanent scarring.
Macaws nip as a warning before reaching their full bite force. This is intended to deal with threats and give the parrot time to escape. A macaw will rarely bite you as hard as it can.
This is the most frequent type of bite. It’s nothing more than a quick, piercing snap of its beak that likely doesn’t hurt too much or break the skin. It can happen, but that’s not the intention.
A warning bite will sting, causing you to retract your hand. The parrot’s intention was never to hurt you but to communicate that it’s stressed, afraid, or feels threatened.
Nips can be harmless body language that parrots share in the wild. The only difference is that feathers protect them, while human fingers contain delicate skin, bones, and nerves.
This bite will sting. Before nipping you, it may nudge your skin tentatively with its closed beak. If you don’t take note, the macaw will 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.
When sufficient force is exerted, the bite can puncture the skin and draw blood. Although it’ll sting, the total surface area of the wound will be small.
Macaws use piercing bites when their warnings aren’t heeded. If the parrot has hissed, fluffed its feathers, and snapped at you, this bite will be issued to test its boundaries.
This is among the most painful macaw bites you can receive from a macaw.
Due to the hookbill beak shape, the tip can get stuck deep in the skin when the parrot delivers its bite. The macaw will also use greater force and latch on tight.
While trying to dislodge the beak, the tip will pull at the skin, possibly tearing it open. This can leave a painful, gaping wound.
Skin that’s torn from a macaw bite often needs stitches. Before that, disinfect the wound because bacteria is deep inside the parrot’s inner mouth.
If the macaw latches onto you with its beak, it can apply a crushing bite.
The powerful grip allows the parrot to use most of its jaw strength, which is painful and can cause long-term damage. However, given the severity of the bite, your body may not register the pain immediately.
Bones may crack or shatter if the macaw bites down on a large section of your finger. The struggle could rip the finger off if it doesn’t let go.
Macaws rarely deliver crushing bites. The parrot must feel that its life is in danger and that all its warnings (hissing, lunging, etc.) fell on deaf ears.
Bite Force of A Macaw
A green-winged macaw can bite at up to 400 psi. However, a warning bite from a macaw, using only the tip of its beak, will be far less extreme.
A macaw’s bite is so powerful that it can snap the bars of a poorly constructed cage. Hyacinth macaws and scarlet macaws are notorious for chewing through thick bars out of curiosity.
- The hard shells of a macadamia nut may require up to 300 psi to be cracked.
- Bones like the femur require 899 psi to access the nutrients inside.
A macaw will reserve its jaw strength for these tasks, biting defensively as a last resort.
Regularity of Macaw Bites
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 scared or angry.
Why Macaws Bite You
Most believe that parrots bite out of aggression, but that’s untrue.
According to Veterinary Clinics of North America: Exotic Animal Practice, wild parrots don’t bite when fighting each other. This shows that parrots bite due to external factors.
Some behavioral issues, like jealousy and stress, can be resolved with training and better care.
According to Applied Animal Behavior Science, how a parrot is fed and cared for affects its behavior as an adult. Hand-fed parrots are likelier to have behavioral issues than those weaned by their parents.
Parrots bite out of curiosity or as a means of communication. They want to let you know that they’re:
Grooming And Inexperience
A bonded parrot may care for you through preening. If a macaw is young or has never bitten you until now, it may not realize its jaw strength.
If it doesn’t understand that it’s causing pain, this will continue until trained to stop.
Parrot with 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, this isn’t the case for all macaws. 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 compared to other species.
Cockatoo vs. Macaw Bite
There’s much debate in the parrot community over which parrot has the worst bite. Those who’ve received bites from macaws and cockatoos say 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 up to 350 psi.
Cockatoos are very possessive and show more aggression than macaws. They put more force into their bites when angry, annoyed, or jealous.
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 with full force, so cockatoo bites seem worse.
What to Do If a Macaw Bites You
If a macaw bites you, remain calm as outbursts or hostile behavior toward them might:
- Make the parrot latch on tighter.
- Cause the parrot to thrash, making the wound deeper.
- Stress the parrot, making it more prone to biting a second time.
- Break trust with the parrot, so it’s wary of you in the future.
If the parrot has latched on, remain still. The macaw will let go and may want to retreat to a safe place. Once the parrot has released its grip, treat the bite like 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 take.
- Depending on the bite’s severity, you may need stitches.
Danger of Macaw Bites
The risks associated with a macaw bite lie in where you’re bitten and how deep the wound is. Macaw bites are dangerous when exerted with all the force they can muster.
They’re 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 must be treated with more care due to the 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. If you provide a living environment where your parrot feels safe and you have developed a strong bond, a macaw is less likely to bite out of fear.
Most macaws use body language and warning bites to tell people they’ve crossed the line.