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How To Look After Macaw Parrots

Last Updated on: 8th October 2023, 06:57 pm

Macaws are colorful, intelligent, and long-lived parrots, often surviving in captivity for 30-60 years. Prepare yourself for a lifetime of avian warmth, affection, and companionship.

Although some birds are more gifted than others, all macaws can learn to talk at an early age. Be aware that macaws are prone to screaming and can be noisy, so they’re unsuitable for quiet neighborhoods.

Caring for a pet macaw has a steep learning curve, especially if you’re relatively new to bird ownership. Macaws have complex care needs and can develop behavioral problems when not looked after correctly.

If macaws are introduced to an inappropriate environment, they’ll become stressed, leading to problematic behaviors like biting and stereotypies, often resulting in rehoming.

Is it Legal to Own a Macaw?

Many U.S. states require owners to have a permit to keep macaws as pets.

Concerns surrounding the welfare of wild macaws are widespread due to deforestation. Consequently, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists macaws on its red list of threatened species.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) also protects macaws. CITES has assigned all macaws protected status on their appendices.

Macaws listed in Appendix I are in danger of extinction, which heavily restricts their trade. Those listed in Appendix II aren’t considered at imminent risk of disappearance.

The surviving macaw species are assigned to the following appendices:

Appendix IAppendix II
Blue-headed macawsBlue-and-Gold macaws
Blue-throated macawsGreen-winged macaws
Buffon’s macawsHahn’s macaws
Hyacinth macawsNoble macaws
Illiger’s macawsRed-bellied macaws
Lear’s macawsSevere macaws
Military macawsYellow-collared macaws
Red-fronted macaws 
Scarlet macaws 
Spix’s macaws 

If a macaw is listed in CITES Appendix I, you’ll face more challenges importing the bird. That’s why buying a macaw from a domestic breeder, who’ll handle all of the paperwork, is advisable.

Most Popular Pet Macaws

Here are the most popular macaw species kept as pets and their average prices:

Type of MacawAvg. SizeAvg. LifespanTalking AbilityNoise LevelPersonality TraitsAvg. Price
Blue-and-Gold macaws33 inches40 yearsSkilledVery loudAffable and trainable.£1,500
Green-winged macaws40 inches50 yearsAverageVery loudFriendly but can be very needy.$3,500
Hahn’s macaws12 inches30 yearsVery skilledAverage to loudLoving and playful.$1,000
Hyacinth macaws40 inches60 yearsAverageVery loudGentle and loving once tamed.$7,000
Illiger’s macaws17 inches60 yearsAbove averageLoudAffectionate and compassionate.$2,000
Military macaws30 inches50 yearsAverageAverage to loudOften mirrors an owner’s mood.$2,500
Scarlet macaws35 inches60 yearsAverageVery loudNeeds constant stimulation.$3,000
Severe macaws20 inches30 yearsVery skilledLoudIntelligent and playful.$2,000
Yellow-collared macaws17 inches50 yearsSkilledAverage to loudAffectionate and mischievous.$2,000

Some ‘hybrid macaws’ are also available from some breeders. They’re the result of crossbreeding between 2 types of macaw, taking on a combination of the parent’s physical and personality traits.

Examples of hybrid macaws include the following:

  • Calico macaws – Green-winged macaw and military macaw crossbreed.
  • Catalina macaws – Blue-and-gold macaw and scarlet macaw crossbreed.
  • Harlequin macaws – Blue-and-gold macaw and green-winged macaw crossbreed.
  • Shamrock macaws – Scarlet macaw and military macaw crossbreed.

Research the suitability of each species extensively before committing to care for a macaw.

How To Care for A Macaw

If you’ve made it this far in our macaw care guide and remain interested in looking after a macaw as a pet, read on to learn more about their day-to-day needs and requirements.

How Much Exercise Do Macaws Need?

The larger the bird, the more time it’ll need outside its cage.

Smaller macaws like the Hahn’s, Illiger’s, and yellow-collared macaws can thrive with 2-3 hours of exercise. Larger species like the hyacinth, scarlet, or green-winged macaws need 4+ hours.

Always allow a macaw as much time as possible outside its cage, allowing the bird to stretch its wings and work off the frustration of being cooped up.

Parrot-proof the home for the bird’s safety, and consider getting a harness to take the macaw outside, where it can fly while benefitting from UV rays from direct sunlight.

Flight is the best way to encourage a macaw to exercise, so only clip a parrot’s wings if essential.

How Much Attention Does a Macaw Need?

Macaws are very social birds that dislike being left alone or ignored. Only consider bringing a macaw into your home if you have the time and inclination to make it feel like part of the family.

You must spend several hours each day talking to your macaw, teaching it new tricks to keep it intellectually stimulated, and playing fun games together.

A macaw denied attention will display stereotypies and other unwanted behaviors.

do macaw parrots make good pets?

Are Macaws Affectionate?

Parrots can form deep and complex bonds with human owners. Anthrozoös claims that some owners consider this bond superior to that established with a cat or dog.

Hahn’s, Illiger’s, hyacinth, blue-and-gold, and yellow-collared birds are among the friendliest macaws. However, all macaws must bond with their owners before they gain trust.

You may find that a macaw shows favoritism toward one human owner above everybody else. This will likely be the person who feeds, trains, and plays with the macaw most often.

If you wish a macaw as a family pet, ensure that everybody in the home makes an effort to spend time with the bird. This will minimize the risk of a macaw rejecting other household members.

Are Macaws Noisy Birds?

While macaws are the most gifted talkers, this doesn’t mean you’ll have a quiet pet. Even if a macaw never utters a word, it’ll make significant noise. Macaws are famed for their ear-splitting screams.

Most macaws will scream first thing in the morning upon waking and whenever the bird is startled or frightened. It’s common for macaws to scream for attention when feeling bored or neglected.

The noise level of a macaw can exceed 100 decibels, which is a disturbance in some residential areas.

Can Macaws Talk?

All macaws can talk because they have a syrinx, but this doesn’t mean it’ll be a chatterbox. Some parrots are more skilled in mimicking human speech than others, even with training.

Macaws aren’t the best talkers in the parrot family, but Hahn’s macaws are natural mimics. If you want a macaw to talk, you must dedicate time to teaching it English words.

Other Common Macaw Vocalizations

Beyond screaming and repeating human dialog, macaws can make different sounds, including:

Macaw VerbalizationMeaning
Chirping:“I feel relaxed and calm.”
Clicking the beak:This is my territory – approach at your own risk.”
Clicking the tongue:“I feel great and am completely relaxed.”
Grinding the beak:“I am tired and am getting ready for sleep.”
Hissing:“Stay away from me – I don’t want to be touched and may bite.”
Purring:“I love spending this time with you – continue petting me.”
Squawking:“Something has grabbed my attention or startled me.”
Whistling:“Pay attention to me, please – I want to interact with you.”

Do Macaws Bite Their Owners?

Most macaws can be trained to be calmer and more relaxed around humans.

Bites may arise if the parrot is anxious, and a macaw bite can be serious. Never approach a macaw that appears agitated and doesn’t show signs of welcoming interaction.

Larger macaws have a bite force that’s stronger than a large dog. However, it’s unlikely to bite with this severity unless provoked or terrified. For example, you approach a macaw during night terrors.

Can Macaws Live Alone?

Macaws cope poorly with being left alone. They’re prone to separation anxiety, and if you don’t provide a macaw with enough company, it’ll grow increasingly stressed and agitated.

Macaws aren’t an ideal pet for a family that spends extended periods away from home. Parrots rarely nap long during the day, meaning they’ll be awake, alert, and potentially bored.

If you can’t spend several hours a day with a macaw, it’ll need a same-species friend.

Do Macaws Need a Companion?

You could get a pair of macaws, with each bird keeping the other company. However, having 2 pet macaws means twice as much noise and almost double the expenses (food, vet bills, etc.)

You’ll need to pair 2 macaws that can form a bond. According to Genetics and Molecular Biology, macaws are usually socially monogamous in the wild, often mating for life.

Most experts recommend keeping macaws of the opposite sex to minimize the risk of territorial and hormonal rivalry. This increases the likelihood of breeding during mating season.

If you keep macaws of the opposite sex, house them in separate cages. The birds will still experience hormonal surges and sexual frustration if kept apart, which could lead to laying unfertilized eggs.

Macaw Cage Setup

While macaws must spend ample time exercising and flying free in a bird-safe home, the cage will be its primary accommodation. A macaw must feel safe and comfortable within its cage.

The dimensions of a macaw’s cage depend on the bird’s size.

A smaller parrot like a Hahn’s, Illiger’s, or yellow-collared macaw may be okay with a cage that measures 34″ x 24″ x 36″. Larger macaws need something closer to 36″x 48″ x 60″.

The cage must be large enough to allow a macaw to stretch its wings to maximum span, fly, and stand without bending its tail feathers.

Where to Put a Macaw Cage

Locate a macaw’s cage in a room where the bird will regularly enjoy the company of others but not where it will be startled by loud noises or threatened by dogs and cats.

A macaw will also need a quiet place to sleep for at least 10 – 12 hours each night, so ensure the location allows silence once the cage is covered at night.

If necessary, set up a second cage in a rarely-used area exclusively for sleep.

What Does a Macaw Need in its Cage?

A macaw’s cage will need the following to meet its basic needs:

  • At least 3 perches, located at varying heights, ideally constructed from different materials.
  • A regular supply of fresh drinking water and a food bowl or dish.
  • Toys and puzzles for stimulation.
  • Disposable objects for the macaw to chew and destroy, filing the beak and claws.

The more interactive objects a macaw’s cage contains, the happier it’ll be in captivity.

What Do Macaws Eat?

Wild macaws sustain themselves on leaves, berries, seeds, and nuts.

While captive macaws enjoy the latter foods, especially hard-shelled nuts that must be broken open with their strong beaks, seed-only diets cause weight gain, fatty liver disease, and malnutrition.

Captive macaws must be fed a balanced diet that meets their nutritional requirements. A pet store will stock parrot food pellets containing the vitamins and minerals a macaw needs to flourish.

As effective as pellets may be, many macaws will find them a little dull as their sole source of sustenance.

Supplement a pet bird’s diet with fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds as treats. Aim for a ratio of around 70% pellets and 30% other foods.

Dark, leafy greens and brightly-colored fruits high in beta-carotene. As per the Journal of Zoo and Aquarium Research, macaws prefer fresh foods whole rather than chopped or sliced.

Never feed a macaw any chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, garlic, onions, mushrooms, or avocado, as these foods are toxic to parrots. Remove seeds from apples and pears, as these contain amygdalin.

How Long Can Macaws Survive Without Food and Water?

As larger parrots, macaws can survive up to 72 hours without eating and drinking. However, a macaw that refuses to eat or hydrate for more than 24 hours should be considered an emergency.

The longer a parrot goes without food or water, the greater the risks to the bird’s long-term health.

caring for a macaw parrot

Common Macaw Behavioral Problems

Many captive macaws scream, which is arguably the most common complaint.

While macaws can be trained to reduce screaming, you’ll never entirely silence a parrot. Attempting to stop a macaw from screaming is akin to demanding a human infant stop laughing or crying.

Outside of these loud vocalizations that may lead to complaints from neighbors, macaws can be prone to other undesirable habits that must be monitored carefully.

Destructive Behavior

Parrots can be prone to destructive behavior when bored or anxious. Their large beaks mean that a macaw can cause damage to furniture and furnishings if this behavior is unchecked.

In most birds, destructive tendencies are stereotypies – repetitive, compulsive actions borne of frustration and impaired instincts. Give a parrot toys to chew and destroy in the cage, and spend time intellectually stimulating the bird and allowing it to behave as naturally as captive living conditions allow.

Parrots, including macaws, can also be prone to self-destructive behaviors like feather plucking. This is an act of self-mutilation, where the macaw forcibly extracts feathers from its body.

Feather plucking is often connected to stress or frustration, especially when the macaw’s hormones are elevated. Be mindful of how you interact with a macaw during the breeding season, as it may see you as a mate and grow increasingly frustrated and upset when denied the opportunity to breed.


We’ve discussed how important it is to make a macaw feel safe and content within its cage. The downside is that this can make macaws highly defensive and territorial of their homestead.

Ornithological Applications explains how wild macaws can grow increasingly aggressive toward non-bonded conspecifics that approach nesting or roosting locations that have been claimed.

Naturally, captive macaws experience no such concerns- but instinct is engrained.

Teach a macaw early that you’re entitled to approach the cage for cleaning and to change food and water supplies, ensuring such proximity doesn’t lead to aggression and hostility.   

Parrots can also grow territorial and possessive over toys and even humans.

If a macaw has a favorite person, it may grow belligerent and jealous if other family members show affection and receive attention from this individual.


Macaws know that the size of their beaks and bodies can intimidate humans, especially those unfamiliar with avian behavior, which can inspire dominant behaviors.

Parrots like to test boundaries. You may find that a macaw lunges to see if you react. If you demonstrate a fear or startled response, it may feel dominant and empowered to repeat this action repeatedly.

Reduce the risk of attempted dominance in your macaw by positioning the cage just below eye level so the bird isn’t towering over you, and ignore attempts to assert authority.

Caring for a pet macaw is challenging, but it’s an opportunity to build a special bond with a bird with a human-like life expectancy. Just be aware of the time and energy commitment to avoid rehoming.