Macaw Husbandry: Tips and Tricks


For the last two and a half years two co-writers have been researching data on macaws. This research has led us into areas we never suspected and put to rest many myths that have been repeated for years. The data is published now in a book entitled "The Large Macaws:

Their Care, Breeding and Conservation." Let me share a few of the highlights.


Several members of the macaw family have similar looking species. Confusion over Scarlet or Green-winged, Blue and Gold or Blue-throated, Buffon's or Military abound. To make matters worse, hybrids obscure the issue even more. This confusion over identity is not limited to aviculturists. Careful review of recent literature show that natural history, zoological, conservation and even specialty rainforest periodicals commonly misidentify various species of macaws.

Consistent misidentification bewilders aviculturists ~ho specialize in the macaw family. Just like lory identification is simple for John Vanderhoof, or Amazon identification is second nature for John Stoodley, once the criteria for identification is learned, accurate classification is insured. Then the variety within the individual species can be fully appreciated.


Once the specific variety of macaw is chosen, the next decision is where to get the bird or birds. Prior to 1980, the only choice available was wild-caught birds. These birds were taken from the wild as either chicks from the nest or older, in many cases adult stock. During this early period of macaw aviculture the length of time required for wild-caught birds to breed was unknown. The hope was that by buying the older bird, breeding success would come quicker and easier. That premise turned out to be incorrect. Adult birds appeared to be shell


shocked and commonly did not take well to captivity. The most difficult to "domesticate" were known as "broncos." Broncos commonly screamed or would bite to convince you that interacting with them was a bad idea. The younger birds adapted easier than their older counterparts but the traveling, quarantine and human handling took its toll. Neither was ideal and I suspect many of us still have birds from the wild that have not bred for us. Some of these birds have had multiple homes and remained unproductive.

Most of the successful breeders learned quickly that the most competent breeding birds were those hatched in captivity. Our first captive-bred Blue and Gold Macaw was purchased in the late 1970' s for $1800 .00. This was a common price for a baby Blue and Gold then, since few were bred in those early years. Two and a half years later she produced her first clutch of fertile eggs. After that I was convinced of the benefit of captive bred stock. The increase in cost was easily made up by the ease in working with the birds and their willingness to reproduce. Our conclusion has not changed. There are some extremely skilled breeders both in this country and abroad who consistently produce excellent, healthy birds.

Purchasing a Macaw

Once you decide on a species of macaw it should be evident that the most important concern is the health of the bird. All aviculturists should by now be familiar with diseases that could affect our birds. Psittacosis, Proventricular Dilitation, Polyoma, Papillomas and Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (rare) are some of the more frequently discussed problems that could affect a macaw. Requiring diagnostic testing for those diseases where they are available is appropriate. Complications will arise if appropriate testing is not carried out prior to bringing your new bird home.


A veterinarian exam which includes a full physical, complete blood count, cultures of the vent and throat, chlamydiosis test and currently available viral diagnostic tests are a minimum entry level requirement to your facility. Some breeders provide birds with these tests already done. Make sure you ask what is included in the price.


Before we did our research we believed what bird books were reporting; that these birds had a wingspan of about three feet. What we found is that the wingspan for most species is about four feet. Hyacinth wingspans exceed four feet. Their lengths were 50 to 57 inches. There are a few commercially produced cages on the market that would meet their needs. In addition, many people build their own environments to house their birds in, which can often be far larger than what is commonly available. Ideally, birds should be able to fully extend their wings, with plenty of clearance for their head and tail. The feeding cups should be large to accommodate their large heads as well as their need for a greater quantity of food.

The decision of how to house your birds should be based on the species, number of birds and the length of time they will be spending in the cage. Long term housing of breeder birds requires more spacious facilities than a cage for a single pet.

Breeding Macaws

The choice to breed should not be taken lightly. Breeding macaws is a time consuming, absorbing vocation. Feeding birds around the clock; rushing home from the movies; canceling a dinner party, conference, or family vacation; or explaining to the family why feeding birds is more important than Aunt Martha's funeral can take its toll. Decide to breed macaws only if it is what you are really interested in doing.

If the breeding bug has bitten you, learn as much as you can about the species you are interested in breeding. Get birds you really like, not just those that are the current rave. Once again, your number one concern should be the health of the bird.





Abramson, J. 1989. Macaw Husbandry. AFA Watchbird CITES Issue, Fall 1989, 19-21.

Abramson, J. 1991. Macaw Breeding and Conservation. AFA Watchbird, XVIII(3) 40-42.~