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How To Look After Macaw Parrots

Last Updated on February 20, 2024 by Carrie Stephens

Macaws are colorful, entertaining, and intelligent birds. Some species live for up to 60 years. If you meet a macaw’s care needs, prepare for a lifetime of friendship and companionship.

Looking after a pet macaw can be a steep learning curve, especially if you’re new to bird ownership. Macaws have complex care needs and can develop behavioral problems.

If macaws have a home that isn’t fit for purpose, they’ll become stressed and unhappy. This leads to negative behaviors like biting and stereotypies (feather-destructive behavior, chewing, etc).

Pet Macaw Species Information

Here are the macaw species kept as pets with vital-to-know information:

Type of MacawAvg. SizeAvg. LifespanTalking AbilityNoise LevelPersonality TraitsAvg. Price
Blue-and-Gold macaws41-45 inches40-50 yearsVery good (20+ words)Very loudAttention-seeking and loving.£1,750
Green-winged macaws41-49 inches60-70 yearsPoor (5-10 words)Very loudAffectionate, loving, and easy-going.$2,500
Hahn’s macaws14-16 inches20-30 yearsExcellent (Up to 50 words)LoudActive and playful.$1,000
Hyacinth macaws44-48 inches40-50 yearsPoor (5-10 words)Very loudGentle and loving once tamed. Rare pets.$10,000+
Illiger’s macaws41-45 inches30-50 yearsPoor (5-10 words)LoudAffectionate, playful, and intelligent.$2,000
Military macaws33-43 inches40-60 yearsPoor (5-10 words)LoudSociable and even-tempered.$2,000
Scarlet macaws44-47 inches40-70 yearsPoor (5-10 words)Very loudAffectionate and energetic.$3,000
Severe macaws15-18 inches30-50 yearsVery good (20+ words)LoudStrong-willed and playful.$2,000
Yellow-collared macaws20-22 inches40-50 yearsVery good (20+ words)LoudInquisitive and outgoing.$2,000

Some ‘hybrid macaws’ are available from breeders. They result from crossbreeding between 2 species of macaws, taking on a combination of the parent’s traits. Hybrid macaws include:

  • 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 macaw species before committing to their care.

Caring for A Pet Macaw Parrot

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.

Attention Requirements

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

Macaws are prone to separation anxiety disorder (SAD) and grow increasingly agitated when denied company. Therefore, they aren’t suitable for families that spend extended periods away from home.

Spend time talking to your macaw, teaching it fun tricks, and playing games together. A macaw denied attention will likely display stereotypies and other undesirable behaviors.

macaw parrots make good pets

Human-Macaw Bonding

Parrots form deep and complex bonds with their human owners. Anthrozoös claims that some owners consider this bond superior to that established with cats or dogs.

Hahns, Illigers, hyacinths, blue-and-gold, and yellow-collared macaws are among the friendliest species. That said, all macaws must bond with their owners before they gain sufficient trust.

You may find that a macaw shows favoritism toward one owner above everyone else. If you want a macaw as a family pet, ensure everybody makes an effort to engage with the bird and offer food.

Same-Species Partner

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

Most experts recommend keeping macaws of the opposite sex to minimize the risk of territorial aggression. Of course, this increases the likelihood of breeding during the mating season.

If you keep macaws of the opposite sex and don’t want them to breed, house them separately.

Note that a macaw with a same-species companion is unlikely to bond as closely with its owner.

Exercise Needs

The health of parrots will benefit considerably from several hours of daily exercise.

Let a macaw spend as much time as possible outside its cage, allowing it to stretch its wings and work off the frustration of being cooped up. Parrot-proof the home to avoid escape attempts.

Eventually, consider getting a harness to take the macaw outside, where it can fly while benefitting from UV rays from direct sunlight. Flying is the best source of exercise for all birds.

Vocalizations

Macaws produce ear-splitting screams, with the noise level often exceeding 100 decibels.

Most macaws scream first thing in the morning upon waking and whenever startled. It’s common for macaws to scream for attention when they feel bored or neglected.

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

Macaw SoundMeaning
Chirping:“I feel relaxed and calm.”
Clicking the beak:“This is my territory – stay away.”
Clicking the tongue:“I feel completely relaxed.”
Grinding the beak:“I’m tired and ready for sleep.”
Hissing:“Stay away from me, or I’ll bite.”
Purring:“I love spending this time with you.”
Squawking:“Something has grabbed my attention or startled me.”
Whistling:“Pay attention to me – I want to interact with you.”

Talking Ability

All macaws can talk because they have a syrinx (equivalent of a human voice box), but this doesn’t mean they’ll do so. Some are skilled talkers or more inclined to mimic human speech than others.

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

Biting And Aggression

Most macaws can be trained to be calmer and more relaxed around humans. Of course, a rehomed macaw may have a history of bad treatment that severely affects its behavior.

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

Macaws have large beaks (hookbills) and a bite force comparable to that of a large dog. However, a macaw is unlikely to bite with this severity unless heavily provoked or terrified.

Macaw Cage Setup

While macaws must spend time exercising and free-flying in a bird-safe room, the cage is its home.

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 extend its wings and get around easily.

Where To Put A Macaw Cage

Locate a macaw’s cage in a room where it’ll benefit from your company. It mustn’t be startled by loud TV noises or threatened by pets (cats, dogs, etc.)

A macaw also needs a quiet place to sleep for 8 to 12 hours, so ensure the location isn’t noisy. If necessary, set up a second cage in a rarely-used area exclusively for sleep.

What A Macaw Needs in Its Cage

A macaw’s cage needs the following:

  • At least 3 wooden perches, located at varying heights and angles.
  • Well-stocked food and water bowls.
  • Toys and puzzles for stimulation (rope ladders, bells, wooden blocks, etc.)
  • Disposable objects to chew and destroy, wearing down the beak and claws.
  • Cage liners to collect feces and food waste.

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

Foods And Diet

Omnivorous wild macaws sustain themselves on leaves, berries, seeds, and nuts. Captive macaws also enjoy these foods, especially hard-shelled nuts that must be cracked open with their powerful beaks.

Avoid seed-only diets, which cause weight gain, fatty liver disease, and malnutrition.

Quality pellets will have the vitamins and minerals macaws need to flourish in captivity. Unfortunately, most macaws find pellets dull-tasting. Supplement a macaw’s diet with the following:

Aim for a ratio of around 60-70% pellets and 30-40% other highly nutritious foods.

Never feed macaws the following foods:

Remove seeds from stone fruits because many contain amygdalin (cyanogenic glycoside).

How Long Macaws Can Survive Without Food And Water

Macaws may 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 treated as a medical emergency.

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

Common Macaw Behavioral Problems

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 baby to stop crying.

Outside of these loud vocalizations that may lead to complaints from neighbors, macaws can be prone to other undesirable habits. These include:

Destructive Behavior

Parrots can become destructive when bored or anxious. Their large beaks mean a macaw can damage furniture if the behavior remains unchecked.

Destructive tendencies are stereotypies – repetitive, compulsive actions borne of frustration and impaired instincts. Give a parrot toys to chew and destroy so it can live as nature intended.

Macaws can also be prone to self-destructive behaviors, such as feather plucking. This is an act of self-mutilation in which the macaw forcibly removes healthy feathers from its body.

Be careful how you interact with a macaw during the breeding season. It may see you as a mate and grow increasingly frustrated when denied the opportunity to breed.

caring for a macaw parrot

Territoriality

Ornithological Applications explains how wild macaws grow increasingly hostile toward non-bonded parrots that approach nesting or roosting locations.

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

Parrots can also grow territorial and possessive over toys and favored 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.

Dominance

Parrots like to test boundaries, so you may find that a macaw lunges to see if you react. A macaw may feel empowered to repeat this action if you show fear or startlement.

Signs of Ill Health

If your macaw shows one or more of these symptoms, it may be unwell:

If you observe these general symptoms, get your macaw examined by a veterinarian.

Caring for a pet macaw isn’t easy, but you can build a special bond. Getting a second macaw will diminish the human-parrot bond. Unfortunately, the macaw’s attention will be focused on the other bird.