The Macaw: Characteristics, Feeding and More

The Macaw is one of the most striking birds due to its beautiful plumage, whose colorful and varied colors contrast with the greenish background of the forest. Its powerful and large beak works as a useful tool when it comes to feeding. In many homes you can see up close the great beauty of this fragile bird. Find out many other things by continuing to read this article.


the macaw

The macaw (Ara) is a bird of great fame, which is part of the Psittaciformes order and the Psittacidae family. They are recognized by their striking plumage, whose colors are appropriate for places like the tropical forests of Central and South America, full of green canopies and colorful fruits and flowers. Although they belong to the same family as parrots, macaws are creatures with particular and distinctive characteristics. 


The macaw is a robust bird with a huge head, a thick and powerful beak and a long tail in relation to the size of its body. The macaws are distinguished in their physique from other parrots in that they are larger, with an extraordinarily long tail. Of course, the sizes are specific to each specific species: the smallest can measure from 40 to 60 centimeters in length, while the largest can reach up to 90 or 95 centimeters.

For this reason, their weights also vary a lot, since the largest varieties reach a weight of more than a kilo and a half while the most modest ones usually only weigh about 300 grams. They have an extremely long hook-shaped beak and four-fingered claws, two forward and two backward, with curved nails that allow them to cling to tree branches, cage bars, or any object.

Macaws have a long existence since it is known of specimens that have exceeded 50 years of life. They also stand out for their intelligence, since they have a fast learning; at 7 months they reiterate words and at one year they can relatively understand what is said to them. They can reach a vocabulary of about 30 words.

Its plumage exhibits an intense and diverse color, despite the fact that the feathers on its face are less conspicuous; their eyes are surrounded by white patches. The bright color of its feathers is typical of this species, which are usually green, red or yellow and blue.


There are hardly any differences between the sexes, since both the female and the male have very similar plumages and it cannot be said that one sex is larger than the other. The youngest specimens may have feathers of a lighter color or be smaller, but as adults they achieve a very similar size and plumage.


Macaws have an omnivorous type of diet, they must eat all kinds of food to achieve their own diet for their body and that meets their quality food requirements. However, their diet must be based on fruits and seeds, and they may also catch insects or worms. Being free, the macaws go in search of the best seeds, which they manage to split with the help of their powerful beaks.

They can also go hunting by observing social behavior that enables them to share food when a member of the flock, such as incubating females, cannot get it on their own.

However, in captivity or as pets, macaws cannot obtain the desired food, so they must be given a quality feed appropriate to their species, which provides them with all the nutrients they require. They can be offered pieces of fresh fruit or vegetables to supplement the feed, as well as almost anything you eat, except for chocolate, parsley and avocado, which can intoxicate them. 

Nuts or seeds, such as sunflower and pumpkin seeds, make up an important entertainment for these talented animals. They can also be rewarded with toys as a stimulus to their intelligence.


The macaw is a very talented and sociable bird that frequently congregates in flocks of 10 to 30 individuals. Their shrill calls, squawks and cries echo through the forest. meanwhile they feed or groom themselves, they are only silent when caring for their young. They must be properly trained so that they do not screech, as they can be very annoying. Macaws use their voice to communicate with the flock, demarcate territory, and recognize each other.

Their sociability highlights some interesting facts about them, such as self-medication, when certain species eat moist soil or clay which helps them neutralize the chemical components in their fruity diet and calm their stomachs, or mimicry, by which they simulate the human voice and other sounds of its environment or monogamy, being one of the few animals that keeps the same breeding partner for its entire existence and sharing food with each other to strengthen their bond.

It uses its tongue to explore objects in its environment and to extract food, for which the tongue is made up of a series of bones. The hyacinth macaw features a black tongue with bright yellow stripes. The flocks doze on the trees at night, and in the morning they fly long distances to eat fruits, nuts, insects and snails.

Health and Reproduction

It is not usual for macaws to get sick, the health disorder that they could occasionally have is due to intestinal discomfort caused by microorganisms, or when they feel lonely they pluck their feathers, as well as when they do not feel comfortable in the place where they live. Air currents should be avoided in the place where they are as they could cause pneumonia.

Its reproduction is oviparous and by internal fertilization and the details of reproduction change between species. They are largely monogamous creatures. The female releases 2 to 3 eggs, usually in a hole in a tree, where they incubate for about 5 weeks. The chicks take flight from the nest about 90 days after hatching, and then completely abandon their parents a year later. Their sexual maturity occurs around 5 years of age.

Macaw Varieties

These exotic birds are highly valued and their uncontrolled hunting has caused certain species of macaws to be at risk of extinction. As they usually fly in a group, the chances of being caught are facilitated. There are 17 different varieties, eight of which are extinct or critically endangered.

For many years they were classified into just four genera, but science has been and continues to revise this. In recent times they have been grouped into 6 genres, but even that is somewhat confusing and can be readjusted. Most of the pet macaws come from the Ara, Diopsittaca and Primolius groups. The classification that we offer below is according to their gender and size.

Genus Ara

This genus comprises 8 of the 17 varieties. The most easily recognized are the large and colorful macaws. They stand out from them:

  • Blue and gold macaw (Ara ararauna): It is the most sought after of the macaws, with a size of about 80 centimeters and a weight of one kilo. Its feathers are blue on the upper area, its chest and belly are yellowish, its chin is dark blue, and its forehead is green. Its white face with modest black feathers that look like stripes is striking. It is one of the least screeching, which is why it is considered the perfect exotic pet.
  • Green-winged Macaw (Ara chloropterus): This variety is one of the largest with about 95 centimeters and a weight that ranges from 950 to 1700 grams. Its wings are made up of three colors, blue, green and red, while its body is red, except for a circle of white and without plumage that surrounds the eye.
  • Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao): It is another of the large varieties with an average length of about 90 centimeters and a weight of about one kilo. Its body is reddish with tricolor wings, red on the shoulders and with a yellow band, the two colors that make up its name. The ends of their wings are a very deep blue color.

Other varieties of large macaws in this group are also great pets, but less conspicuous in color. These are:

  • Military macaw (Ara militaris).
  • Buffon's Macaw (Ara ambigua).

Lastly, the smallest bird in this group, which is generally regarded as a mini macaw:

  • Severe macaw or chestnut-fronted macaw (Ara severus).: It usually measures about 46-50 centimeters with a weight of 300-350 grams, predominantly green in its plumage with the exception of the wings, whose interior is red with feathers. blue exteriors. His tail is red and blue.

Genus Primolius

The macaws in this group are three of the smallest macaws. Some time ago they were included in the Ara group, and later in the Propyrrhura group. It was only recently that they were included in this group, despite the fact that this is under debate. Because of naming patterns there may be precedence given to the Propyrrhura group, so another name change is likely. The varieties of macaws that today congregate in this group are:

  • Yellow-necked Macaw (Primolius auricollis): It is another of the smaller varieties, with 39 centimeters and a weight of 250 grams. Its name comes from a yellow area that surrounds its neck and that becomes more intense with the years. The rest of its feathers are green and its head is black, except for the eye area, which is white. It is not considered by some as a species of parrot due to its small size.
  • Illiger's Macaw or Blue-winged Macaw (Primolius maracana): Despite its tiny size of about 40 centimeters, this species produces a lot of noise. It weighs 300 grams and is almost all green, except for the forehead and belly, which are red. The featherless area around the eye is white, its bill is black, and its eyes are orange.
  • Blue-headed Macaw (Primolius couloni): It is one of the least known macaws. It has a length of about 40 centimeters and a weight of 280 grams, with olive green plumage and a blue head. The upper area of ​​its tail is brown with green and blue spots and the lower area has a greenish tone combined with yellow.

Genus Diopsittaca

Three of the smallest species or mini macaws gather here. These birds are also frequently found in the Ara group list. This grouping comprises three proposed subspecies of the red-shouldered macaw species Diopsittaca nobilis, which are:

  • Hahn's Macaw (Diopsittaca nobilis nobilis), the smallest nominate variety.
  • Noble Macaw (Diopsittaca nobilis cumanensis): It is the smallest of all the macaws; of about 30 centimeters and a weight of 150 grams. Due to its size and peaceful character it is the favorite variety of breeders. This bird, as well as the rest of its species, has a long tail. Its body has green feathers, which when approaching the head become darker until they become blue. Its eyes are orange, and the area around the beak is featherless. In its adulthood, its shoulders change its plumage to red.
  • Long-winged Macaw (Diopsittaca nobilis longipennis).

Genus Anodorhynchus

The macaws in this assemblage are highly threatened or critically endangered birds. This group incorporates:

  • Hyacinth Macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus)
  • Common Macaw (Anodorhynchus glaucus)
  • Lear's Macaw (Anodorhynchus leari), also referred to as the Indigo Macaw.

Genus Orthopsittaca

There is hardly a mini macaw in this group. It was also placed in the Ara group, but most authorities currently place it in the genus Orthopsittaca. Although this macaw is easy to capture, its maintenance in captivity is extremely difficult due to a highly specialized diet that is not easily reproducible.

It was listed as Endangered in 2007, IUCN, but since 2009 it has been placed in the category of Least Concern. Apparently, these macaws seem to be more abundant than thought in the wild, however their habitat is still in danger:

  • Red-bellied Macaw (Orthopsittaca manilata): A part of its face is a very typical yellow color and it lacks feathers. It has a size of about 50 centimeters and a weight of 300 to 350 grams. Its plumage is green and shows a red spot on the belly from which it gets its name. Shoulders and forehead blue and chest that is close to gray. In addition to its unique yellow area on the face, the inner part of the wings and tail also have that color.

Genus Cyanopsitta

This genus comprises only one species, which in addition to being very rare is under critical threat:

  • Spix's Macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii), also known as the Blue Macaw.

Macaw Habitat

The natural habitat of the macaws is found in tropical territories and forests such as those of America, particularly those of South America, while a few varieties are located in Central America, some extending to Mexico. The space in which a large part of the macaws have concentrated corresponds to the Amazon River basin, the limits of Colombia with Panama and various territories of Brazil. It also has a presence in Peru, Bolivia and even Ecuador.

Even so, the best known variety, the scarlet macaw, expands through Central America to the Amazon. A singular case is that of the green macaw, since it has a very irregular distribution, since it is located in Mexico, in areas of Venezuela and in Argentina, perhaps due to the fact that human activities have divided and separated its population. 

Macaw habitats within the same rainforest change between species, for example scarlet macaws dwell in lowlands, while red-bellied macaws are found in swampy areas.

Hyacinth macaws will move with the seasons, moving from the open canopy of rainforest to mature palm forest, and then to more open space of grassy swamps. There are cases of macaws, such as the red-fronted, which live in semi-desert areas in which they nest in holes or holes in the walls of the gorges and the yellow-necked macaw that lives in grasslands.


The time when these birds face predation is when they are in full flight. Larger birds are the main culprits for this. Among the most common predators of macaws we find orange-breasted falcons (Falco deiroleucus), hawk-eagles (Nisaetus cirrhatus) and harp eagles (Harpia harpyja).

predatory people

Aside from the bird world, humans are also regular predators of Blue and Gold Macaws. People go in search of these varieties, namely for their colorful plumage and meat, the latter being used for food purposes. They are also often caught illegally by humans to be marketed as pets.

Trees and Dodge Predators

Blue and Gold Macaws typically nest in tree holes, for which they are apt to use trees of considerable elevation, which is a way of remaining hidden from any of their major predatory challenges. They also frequently hide in the empty trunks of lifeless trees. Blue and gold macaws are species of great caution, barely suspecting the slightest sign of danger, they immediately fly upwards while squawking continuously and noisily.

As a Companion Animal

In captivity these birds are very neat animals that take care of their own hygiene. We just have to provide them with a container with warm water so that they can shower and clean themselves when they deem it necessary. A bird of this class should never be rubbed or cleaned in person, as we could damage its feathers. Macaws are one of the most beautiful birds that exist thanks to the bright colors of their plumage. They are highly intelligent animals and, despite the fact that they can live in freedom, they also become adorable pets.

Generally, captive breeding of these animals is not easy, but it is becoming increasingly successful. First of all, the selected couple must have a good relationship, since otherwise fights could arise between them. To promote harmony, they can be placed in adjoining cages for a period of time for familiarization.

Their cages must have enough space and a nest box of at least 60 x 60 x 90 centimeters or a hollow tree trunk. At the time of reproduction and the nest is accepted by the couple, they will shape it with their beaks and will enter when they want to start the process. These birds lay an average of three or four eggs, which the female will incubate over a period of around 24 to 28 days. After three or four months the chicks will emerge from the nest and their parents will feed them.

State of conservation

The condition of all varieties of macaws alive in the wild is of concern. Several of them are birds with a high threat and threatened with extinction. Due to a mixture of factors, including the devastation of warm forests and their natural environments, hunting and gathering for the pet trade, all macaws are conservation targets and appear on the Red List of Endangered Species of the IUNC.

Some varieties of macaws are extinct, and a certain pair have not been observed for many years and are considered to have vanished or are close to extinction. All show signs of decline in their populations, so they are considered birds at risk, threatened, defenseless or of concern. Today the IUNC Red List of Threatened Species indicates that 2 of the macaw varieties are Critically Endangered (CR), 3 Endangered (En), 1 Near Threatened (NT), 2 Defenseless (VU), and 9 Minor. Concern (LC).

Captive breeding of macaws is helpful in preserving certain species and in reducing the number of wild birds trapped. However, these birds are monomorphic, meaning that their sex cannot be defined by their markings or the color of their plumage. For successful reproduction, the sex of these birds can be recognized by means of a surgical probe, an endoscopy, a DNA test or a chromosomal study.

Relationship with Humans

Macaws are considered extraordinary pets, since they have great appeal not only because of their colorful appearance, but also because they are playful and tender. They also have a long shelf life and are very vigorous. However, their vocalizations can be very loud, and they like to chew on any object they can reach. All macaws require good socialization and continuous training to be magnificent pets.

When choosing a bird as a pet, the first thing to keep in mind is the varieties of macaws and define which are the most appropriate for your lifestyle. The build of the macaw and the facility it will need, the cost of procuring it, and the costs of keeping it are important considerations. Smaller varieties, although not very colorful, require less space and their associated costs may still be lower than those of large varieties or hybrids.

Another relevant issue is its conservation condition. The number of macaws is growing due to aviculture, however not all varieties of macaws in the wild are a cause for concern and most are birds at risk of extinction. Macaws, which are highly threatened birds and are not firmly established in captivity, should not be kept individually as pets.

Instead, these macaws should be mated for breeding purposes to help ensure the sustainability of these varieties in the future. High threat ones are generally extremely rare and often very expensive, and some are simply not available.

History of its Domestication

Macaws have been widely established as pets for decades, and some records indicate that the Green-winged Macaw may have been kept as such as early as the 1970th century or earlier. Lyndon L. Hargrove reviews the first links with macaws in his Comparative Osteology of Mexican Macaws, written in 1536. He refers to the indigenous people of XNUMX who lived in regions that are now New Mexico and Arizona, for having "traded the parrot feather for green stones in the north.

By 1716, a Spanish priest, Father Verlarde, reported that numerous parrots "the Pima Indians rise for their beautiful feathers... which they snatched from the birds in spring to decorate them." Other early writings also point out that other tribes such as the indigenous people raised macaws and used their feathers as ornaments. They also note a quasi-religious significance between an Indian sentinel and a macaw, implying that a person of little moral character could not keep a scarlet macaw.

Perhaps one of the most interesting chronicles of the macaws is that of the inhabitants of Brazil. A century ago, the natives snatched a red feather and infected the area with the liquid of a frog or toad. The next feather to be born would be a bright orange or yellow. Despite some temporary damage to the pen handle, the new pen was of high value.

Huge numbers of macaws have been brought to the United States and Europe where they have been kept as pets since the early 1900th century. Various species of macaws were very popular beginning in the XNUMXs, but because these birds were often traded separately and their sex was difficult to determine, breeding was not a priority at first. This period could also see how the interest in large parrots rose and fell with the turns in national events.

Parrot farming was impacted by both the two global conflagrations and several episodes of bird-related disease outbreaks. After World War II, with cheap air travel, imports grew. Keeping large parrots again become very favorable. Parrots of all kinds arrived in abundance in the United States, encouraging aviculture and captive breeding. Currently the importation of birds is very limited, but numerous species are successfully bred in captivity and macaws are easily accessible.

We recommend our following items:

Be the first to comment

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *



  1. Responsible for the data: Actualidad Blog
  2. Purpose of the data: Control SPAM, comment management.
  3. Legitimation: Your consent
  4. Communication of the data: The data will not be communicated to third parties except by legal obligation.
  5. Data storage: Database hosted by Occentus Networks (EU)
  6. Rights: At any time you can limit, recover and delete your information.