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A Guide to Owning a Scarlet Macaw

Mary's husband bred and raised several species of parrots for 9 years. Here he explains the best practices for handling and caring for them.

My husband raised parrots for 9 years, which included 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. He 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.

Scarlet Macaw

Scarlet Macaw

Should You Get a Pet Parrot?

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 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 might include:

  • Damage to your home
  • Feather plucking
  • Loud screaming

It's worth noting that the location of your home should also play a part. If you live in an apartment, a terraced house or have neighbors nearby, they are unlikely to appreciate the screaming of the birds.

How Long Do Macaws Live?

Macaws live a long time, and it's 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 that needs careful consideration.

What Is the Best Food for Macaws?

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. 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:

Things Macaws Like to Eat

FruitVegetablesSeeds and Grains

Apples

Broccoli

Sunflower seeds

Bananas

Carrots

Pinenuts

Grapes

Peas

Walnut

Mango, papaya, peaches

Corn (on or off the cob)

Brazil nuts

Which Foods Are Bad for a Parrot?

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 that 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.

Green wing, scarlet macaw

Green wing, scarlet macaw

What Type of Housing Is Best for My Bird?

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.

Parrot Stand

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 and flies.

Are Macaws Endangered in the Wild?

How do you know that you are buying a bird that isn't endangered? How do you make sure your bird is hand-reared by a reputable breeder?

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?

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 therefore, avoid it.

Reference

  1. Ara macao (n.d.). Retrieved April 10, 2018.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: Is it OK for me to put a harness on my Scarlet Macaw as long as she's comfortable with it? I am in the process of free fly training and I just want that extra safety precaution.

Answer: No, it is not okay. You are better to clip one wing to avoid it flying off. That will unbalance the bird and keep it from flying away.

Question: How do I take care of my scarlet macaw?

Answer: I'm concerned. If you already have one and are asking that question it may be a good idea to think of re-homing it. I would hope that all people study the necessary care before purchasing a bird.

In the article I have explained about the type of food, cage if using, and interaction needed.

Question: Can I teach my parrot?

Answer: Your question isn't very specific. If you are referring to talking, yes although of the parrots they aren't the best.

A macaw is very intelligent and needs to be occupied or it could become destructive.

Question: I have recently become interested with the idea of buying a bird and I am wondering what type to get. Obviously I want to do my research first and while exploring the idea of these birds as a pet. I was wondering if it is impossible or too risky to leave a scarlet Macaw alone for part of the day?

Answer: It will depend on the temperament of the bird. These are birds who are accustomed to being in groups. It would be better to be in an environment where there is activity and company during the day.

© 2018 Mary Wickison

Comments

Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on September 01, 2020:

Some cats do fine with parrots. Whether it's the size of the beak that deters them, it's hard to say. If your parrot is in a cage, that will be a barrier while they become accustomed to each other.

.

Some people have various animals that coexist well. But let's make no mistake, even though cats are considered a domestic animal, they are predators.

charlie on September 01, 2020:

I'm thinking of getting a scarlet macaw or an African grey but i have a cat. she's nice most of the time but will bring me dead birds and mice. I know that that is normal with cats but I still worry. Any advice?

Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on April 27, 2020:

Hi Kyler,

You did the right thing to report them. Hopefully action was taken and the bird is now safe.

Kyler J Falk from Corona, CA on April 20, 2020:

I was in a mall in Topeka, Kansas that was selling a macaw, and I noticed that it was extremely depressed and plucking its own feathers out. I had to yell at some kids that were pestering it, and then I stood and waited with the bird, comforting it in hopes the store workers would come by but no one ever did. Its holding area was actually one of those meant for guinea pigs and animals of the like, and I was appalled, ready to walk out with this eight-hundred dollar bird.

We reported this place, "Petland" I think it was called, to every exotic wildlife rescue in Kansas. Don't know what happened to the poor fellow, however, and it still makes me cry to think about how desperately it wanted to be taken away and loved. It would screech and raise its foot every time I tried to walk away....

There are certain things in this life that deserve to be in cages, for rehabilitation only, but nothing more. If only all humans could be so kind, and went out of their way to care for those they cage.

Clark on January 16, 2020:

I plan on adopting a bird, mainly because they deserve a home, and I can get around the possibility of it outliving me, which means it might not get proper care. However, many birds in shelters have a nasty habit of picking their feathers. Other than giving them plenty of enrichment, what ways could you get them out of this habit?

Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on November 14, 2019:

Hi JC,

Sorry to hear about your finger. I'd like to say that is a rare occurrence but it isn't. If the parrot had been accustom to you, perhaps it wouldn't have reacted that way.

Cats sound like a good option for you.

JC Scull from Gainesville, Florida on November 14, 2019:

When I was a three year old kid, my grandmother had a parrot. I stuck my finger in the cage and it bit me. I still bear the scar in my index finger. My grandmother ended up giving the parrot away to a friend. However, I think they are very interesting animals and I wish I could own one. But as you said, it is a huge commitment. For now, I'll stick to cats!!

Thanks for sharing.

Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on September 04, 2018:

Hi Pam,

I'm glad you enjoyed it, they are beautiful birds, but as you already know, a big commitment.

Thanks for your comment and kind words.

Pam999 on September 02, 2018:

I have always wanted to own one of these gorgeous birds. i raised cockatiels, and several other varieties of birds at one point in my life. but I don't own any presently.

I enjoyed your very informative article.

Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on July 27, 2018:

I do agree with you, Shauna but there are stands for people to use instead of cages. These are a much better alternative for those who keep birds in their home.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on July 27, 2018:

They're so beautiful, Mary. These majestic birds (and all birds) should be allowed to live freely in their natural habitat, not sentenced to a cage. It's just not right, in my opinion.

Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on April 26, 2018:

Hi Peggy,

Although as pets, they can be brilliant, seeing them free flying is how they should be.

During our time here in Brazil, I had a small free-flying cactus parakeet and it came and went as it pleased, only returning in the evening to its cage. It would ride on the front of my wheelbarrow, and when visitors came, it flew to my shoulder, I assume to protect me.

When we move, we plan to travel so It is the same for us, we won't be having birds again.

Thanks for reading, great to hear from you.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 26, 2018:

That video of the Scarlet Macaws flying freely in Costa Rica was so beautiful. Reading about the care of this type of bird in captivity was interesting. It takes serious commitment and planning ahead to do it properly for the sake of the bird and any other pets or people around such a bird. That is not something that I would consider doing especially at my age.

Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on April 24, 2018:

Hello Chitrangada,

Thank you for your kind words. The scarlet macaws, like other parrots, do take a committed owner. It is a decision one should think carefully about, before deciding to purchase one.

For example, when people go away on holidays, there are usually people who will care for dogs and cats but fewer people feel able to cope with a parrot. This is just one thing that needs to be considered.

Thanks for reading, I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on April 23, 2018:

Great informative article, about Scarlet Macaw.

They are so beautiful, with lovely colours. It needs lot of hard work to look after pets, and one must be aware about the precautions involved.

Your article is a great guide to those, who are planning to own these beautiful birds.

Lovely presentation, thanks for sharing!

Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on April 18, 2018:

Hi Jo,

Yes, you're right it does. Those who get them because they are an 'exotic pet' are not the best owners.

It takes someone who is dedicated to them and their welfare.

Glad you enjoyed the article.

Jo Miller from Tennessee on April 18, 2018:

It takes a special type of person to raise these birds. Glad your husband is doing his part.

Great read.

Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on April 13, 2018:

Hi, Flourish Anyway,

That is a great idea to become a volunteer at a bird rescue center.

Before my parents had kids, they had a chimp. It was my father who wanted one. When my mother retold the story, she used to shake her head, like "what was he thinking".

My husband took in one macaw which had been beaten with wood. It had a crack in its beak from this. You can imagine it was traumatized. It took quite some time to build up trust with that bird, but after spending a lot of time with it, he accomplished it. This bird was rehomed with a breeder whose male had died and wanted another. After a bit of settling in, the two macaws bonded well. Normally birds bond for life, so it was a sucessful outcome for everyone.

Thanks for reading, have a wonderful weekend.

FlourishAnyway from USA on April 12, 2018:

I have too much respect for their long lives and high maintenance to take on the responsibility. There are plenty of rescue facilities that provide volunteer opportunities for those who want contact with these beautiful birds. Anyone who can outlive you needs to be thought of in a will, whether cat, dog, child, or macaw. My mother was given a monkey as a childhood pet and it was just a sad situation. I’m so glad your husband was involved positively in rehoming birds who needed his help.

Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on April 12, 2018:

TSAD I think you are right. Although we say we own a pet, that isn't the whole story. I use the same saying for parrots as I do for kids.

'If they ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.'

I think it is finding an acceptable ground and not attempting to control but coexist with respect.

Great to hear from you.

Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on April 12, 2018:

Hi Suhail,

That person was giving you good advice. In fact, no one likes to think of a pet they have cared for being sold or given to another owner. Circumstances change and often a large parrot can't be part of those plans.

It sounds like you have found a happy medium where you can still enjoy them, although not through ownership.

I'm glad you enjoyed the article.

Thanks for your comment.

Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent from Mississauga, ON on April 12, 2018:

Hi Mary,

This is an informative article written in a reader friendly manner. I found the interview fun to read through.

At one time in my life I was into keeping parrots and always wanted to have different types. My friends used to make fun of me as I would go to pet shops and stare at all the parrots and Macaws for hours. But then a wise man advised that the only problem a human owner can face is their life span. For example, a Macaw can outlive its owner. It is, therefore, not only a life time commitment, but a matter of including them in the 'will' too. All other problems can be easily addressed.

I still love them and routinely visit zoos and bird centres to marvel at their beauty and take shots.

Regards,

Suhail

The Logician from now on on April 11, 2018:

It sounds like "A guide to being owned by s Scarlet McCaw"

Having been owned by several parrots myself, and currently an African grey I can attest to that concept.

Not only do they dictate to you their daily needs, food and lodging as you have pointed out, they most likely will out live you!

And don't dare disobey them or you will be severely punished.

Great interview!

I don't think a McCaw can afford me :-).

Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on April 11, 2018:

They are such a beautiful bird and can make wonderful pets, but it takes a lot of thought. They do live such a long time. When we lived in the UK and moved to a smaller house from a farm, we had to rehome 4 parrots. We had taken them in when a couple we knew were getting divorced.

The birds were easy to rehome as they had been well looked after and used to people. The people who bought them knew how to care for birds or we wouldn't have let them buy them.

They all had individual personalities.

Thanks for reading and your comment, Larry.

Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on April 11, 2018:

Hi Bill,

I would say you have enough on your plate at the moment without adding a macaw to the mix.

When my husband was rearing parrots, he never had a day off. As you know, animals can be enjoyable but are also hard work.

I went from having a fear of birds to allowing a blue and gold macaw we had sit on my shoulder while I worked on a laptop. That wasn't so much a problem but the preening of my hair was distracting. LOL

Thanks for reading, have a great week.

Larry W Fish from Raleigh on April 11, 2018:

What an amazing read, Mary. The Scarlet Macaw is such a beautiful bird. I love the coloring, red, yellow, blue, a tinge of orange, wow. I had no idea that they lived 70+ years. Your article answered some of my questions and it was such a pleasure to read.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 11, 2018:

Truthfully, if I had the energy to take on another responsibility, I would consider raising a macaw. I think they are fascinating birds and it would be so enjoyable. Alas, I do not have the time or energy. Great interview of a man who obviously knows what he is talking about.

wishing you a brilliant Wednesday!