A Guide to Owning a Scarlet Macaw
I interviewed my husband who has raised parrots for 9 years, which includes scarlet macaws, green wings, blue and gold macaws, African grays, three species of Amazon parrots, Hahn's macaws, and Moluccan, citron and crested cockatoos. These were hand-reared from day one out of the egg.
My husband was also part owner of the oldest pet shop in England, and also owned two other pet shops. This gave him many years of experience with parrots, small cage birds, reptiles, tropical and cold water fish, and arachnids. Owning the pet shops gave him experience in husbandry, feeding, and containment, as well as diagnosing many of the common ailments that can befall domestically kept wildlife.
He also took in unwanted macaws and parrots that people no longer could cope with or those which had been badly abused. Once settled, these were re-homed with other experienced breeders.
If you're ready to learn more about the beautiful scarlet macaw, let's get started.
Should You Get a Pet Parrot?
Q. Ian, in your opinion, do scarlet macaws make good pets?
A. Deciding to buy or adopt a macaw is different than owning a common pet such as a dog or cat. The decision to bring a scarlet macaw in your home needs to be a joint decision with everyone involved. Because these birds are highly social, it is best to have someone at home with it. If everyone in the household is out all day, this could lead to behavioral problems in the bird. These problems might include:
- Damage to your home
- Feather plucking
- Loud screaming
How Long Do Macaws Live?
Q. I heard these birds can live a long time, is that true?
A. Yes, that's true, and it is something one needs to think about when deciding to own a macaw. A scarlet macaw can live to be 70+ years old and some are recorded as being over 100 years old. Now, you have to ask yourself, are you ready for that length of commitment? If this is a family bird, it will usually be left to someone in a will. With the potential for such a long lifespan, you can see why this is a decision which needs to be thought through.
Caring for a Macaw
What Is the Best Food for Macaws?
Q. Ian, since you were in the pet trade and also a breeder, what would you suggest as the best food for a scarlet macaw?
A. There are of course commercial feeds for parrots. These are a mixture of seeds and pellets. The superior brands usually include such things such as pine nuts and dried fruits. Quality matters as the cheaper brands are full of fillers and sunflower seeds. Feeding a parrot as close to their natural diet is best. Research where your bird would live if in the wild and what plants would be available to it. In the wild, parrots would eat a varied diet of fruits and plants that are in season. They would also eat carrion and have the occasional chicken bone. Offer your macaw different healthy foods to see if they will eat them. The table below shows suggestions for what a captive bird can have:
Seeds and Grains
Mango, papaya, peaches
Corn (on or off the cob)
Which Foods Are Bad for a Parrot?
Q. Now, we know what to feed it, are there food which we shouldn't let it eat?
A. Just because you eat it doesn't mean it is right for your macaw. Salty, fried, and sugary foods shouldn't be given to birds. For drinking, offer just water which is changed at least daily. I have seen people give their parrots, alcohol, tea, and coffee. The health of their bird suffers for this. Obesity is not just a problem in humans, it's also seen in birds. In the wild birds would have a concave chest. The vast majority of pet parrots are grossly overweight.
What Type of Housing Is Best for My Bird?
Q. Ian, what would you say is the best way to house a scarlet macaw?
A. If you're going to keep your bird in a cage, it should be large enough for the bird to turn without hitting its tail feathers and to stretch its wings. Avoid wooden cages, although they look good, they aren't suitable as the bird would chew through it. Opt for thick, steel wire, with gaps of a maximum of an inch. The locking mechanism should be a bolt action that the bird can't open. The bird will often watch and will learn how to open it if this occurs, opt for a padlock.
The perch inside should be about two inches in diameter, with slots in each end to fit into the cage bars. The perch should be secure and not loose or wobbly. Place a couple extra pieces of wood in the cage for the bird to chew on. They must have wood to chew to keep their beaks trim. Placement of the cage should be a couple inches off the wall with no electrical cables that the bird could possibly reach. Sometimes, they flick food off their beaks, and this extra distance should keep it from any hitting the walls. The feeding bowls should be 4-inch stainless steel bowls attached with the holders they normally come with.
As well as a cage, you can use a parrot stand. Be aware, you must trust your parrot. This should be done initially with the bird's wings clipped. Never chain the bird's leg to the perch as it could cause serious injury to the bird.
Food at one end and water at the other. Unless your bird is perched trained it should be caged when you go out, as this could cause injury to the bird and destruction of your home.
Again, the macaw needs wood to chew on. It is a good idea to remove the perch and replace it with another piece the same diameter. Dried but not rotten wood is best. Hardwood is preferable to a soft wood.
In the area below, the perch is a tray where you can put the paper to assist in the clean up of bird droppings and discarded food. It's best to change this every day to avoid any smells.
This is the type of stand Ian would suggest and also sold in his shop. The wood perch is the correct size, the tray is easy to clean. The loops underneath are ideal for ropes to keep your macaw entertained.
Are Macaws Endangered in the Wild?
Q. How do we know that we are buying a bird that isn't endangered? How do I make sure my bird is hand-reared by a reputable breeder?
A. If you are offered a wild caught bird, it will usually show fear, aggression and possibly start screaming. A hand-reared bird may show apprehension and just sit and look at you. If the birds are caged, simply try and offer a piece of fruit and watch the bird's reaction. A hand-reared bird which has been accustom to people will likely take this from you.
According to the ICUN Red List of Threatened Species¹, the scarlet macaw (Ara macao) is of least concern, although it is believed that numbers are decreasing in the wild.
How Do I Introduce a Macaw to Children and Pets?
Q. How should people introduce children and their pets to the scarlet macaw?
A. As with any animal, young children shouldn't be allowed to be around the parrot alone. A parrot can seriously injure a child. If the bird was in the home before the arrival of the child, there could be jealousy issues. Start slowly, with constant supervision. Don't allow children or teens to tease the bird, ever.
I have seen both dogs and cats get on with parrots. I have also seen a cat who had its face near the eye ripped opened when it got too close to the macaw. Generally, cats see the beak on a scarlet macaw and realize that the bird can cause injury and will, therefore, avoid it.
¹Ara macao . (n.d.). Retrieved April 10, 2018, from http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/22685563/0
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© 2018 Mary Wickison