Macaws: Live and loud

Macaws are members of the parrot family, and some of them are among the biggest and most brilliantly-colored parrots alive. They’re known for their large, curved beaks, and they have flexible and strong toes that they can use like we do our hands.

They have very loud voices that can easily disrupt the relative calm of their surroundings; this lets everybody in their native habitat know that there’s a Macaw around. Surprisingly, although they are very noisy and colorful, this is offset because their bright plumage blends almost perfectly with the leaves, fruits, and shadows where they usually are.

Socially speaking

Macaws are intelligent birds who love to explore and who easily get bored. They are social animals, and they spend a significant amount of time interacting with their own families and social groups (this is important to remember if you want to have a Macaw as a companion!).

Some Macaws are tool users and have a lot of fun figuring out the characteristics of whatever catches their interest. They usually congregate in flocks of about 10 to 30 individuals. They are usually up early in the morning.

Macaws are very loyal when they become couples, and they share food and groom each other. When an egg is being incubated, the dads go out and hunt, bringing food back to the missus.

Beaks, decibels and destruction

Macaws are known for their big beaks, and this is particularly useful for chewing or cracking open their usual food. Unfortunately, this means they can be destructive with them also.

They are also known for their high-volume voices, and when they communicate, everyone in the nearby area will know about it. Macaws can also imitate many sounds – it’s not surprising for a macaw to repeat words. In fact, they practice until they get the words right.

Food and territory

Macaws eat fruits, nuts, seeds, flowers, leaves and live protein sources, such as insects and snails; however, different Macaw species may have preferences. They also sometimes eat clay-heavy soil to neutralize any poisons.

Macaws can be found in Central and South America, as well as Mexico.

Macaw trivia

Macaws seem like the perfect companions and family members for people who are also loud and larger than life, but it’s important to know some facts about them to see if your own character may be a good fit for them.

1. Macaws come in many, many colors
Macaws come in many colors – in fact, some macaws are hybrids of different macaw lines so they can have a somewhat unique color pattern. Do remember, however, that there are controversies about hybrid macaws, particularly since there may be issues in terms of genetics.

2. Macaws come in many sizes
While Macaws are known as large parrots – if not the largest – some macaws are only 12 inches long as adults. Still, you will know them by the bare color rings around their eyes. And remember, many weigh between two and four pounds.

3. Macaws can live a very, very long time
Some macaws, like the Blue and Yellow Macaws, can live an average of 80 years, with some individual macaws living up to 80 years or more. Because of this, many macaws can outlive their owners – so it’s a good idea to make sure that you’ve thought about who can take care of your beloved avian once you pass on.

4. Macaws are very sociable
Like all Parrots, Macaws need social interaction to prevent boredom. If they do become bored, they will tend to chew on soft materials like wood – and that’s problematic, as the next item in the list will point out.

5. Macaws shouldn’t be underestimated when it comes to their strength
Macaws are large birds, and as such, they can be very strong. Some Macaws, like the Hyacinth, can crack open coconut shells with their beaks. If their human family has trouble addressing their aggressive behavior, Macaws can be very destructive as they can injure humans. Again, it’s important that they are taught to behave well and are socialized properly.

The raucous and the famous

Surprisingly, there aren’t many Macaws known by their first name when it comes to show business or entertainment. However, here are some of our finer-feathered Macaw friends, based on a 2009 post on Anthony Lewis’ blog.

1. Charlie
Winston Churchill’s Blue and Gold Macaw was just like his legendary owner: foulmouthed, and he hated Hitler and Nazis. However, Churchill’s own daughter says that it may have been a bit of PR, as her father supposedly only had a few birds, among them an African Grey Parrot – and no Macaws. If true, then who played Charlie?

2. Harry
Animal expert Marc Morrone has had Harry, a Scarlet Macaw, as his companion for over thirty years. He has a particular love for picking on Marc’s glasses, even during live broadcasts.

3. Blu and Jewel from the movie Rio
Yes, this cartoon pair are inspired by Spix’s Macaws. Unfortunately, Spix’s Macaws are likely to be extinct in the wild. The pair were voiced by Jesse Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway.

Macaws, responsibility and family

It’s a common viewpoint that when you have avian family members, the best situation for them is to have their own cages. However, there is an organization that believes otherwise – that our feathered family needs more close contact and the space to really spread their wings.

And when it comes to Macaws, they definitely love their parrots. They are Majestic Wings Free Flight Parrot Philippines, and they seriously believe in treating their beloved macaws as family, not just as pets.

The organization was founded in May of 2015 with the goal of promoting free flight in the Philippines. One of their founders, Rick “Rickigop” Espiritu, sat down to answer some interview questions about his history with birds – specifically, Macaws.

ANIMAL SCENE: When and how did you start caring for animals?

RICK ESPIRITU: Mula nung bata ako, yung mga kalaro ko kung ano-ano ginagawa pero ako nagpapabili na ako nang lovebird. Yung typical na nagsisimba si Mommy, pumupunta ako dun sa nagtitinda sa labas ng simbahan. Nung mga Grade 4 na ako, naumpisahan ko na mag-alaga ng parakeet. Mga kuya ko, kalapati ang pinalaki, pero ako, parrot. . . Naging African lovebirds ang mga inalagaan ko, tapos naging Macaw na, at dumami na sila.

AS: What is the extent of your avian family?

RE: May 80 pairs ako ng African lovebirds. Wala akong paborito. Kailangan nila yung attention mo kasi kailangan ng bonding. Kailangan mo silang pantay-pantay na alagaan. Kung anong kinakain ng isa, kakainin din ng lahat kasi nakikita nila ito. Parang iyon kasi ang personality nila, madali silang magselos. Pag nagtampo sila, makikita mo na kinakagat nila yung balahibo nila. Dahil sa stress iyon.

AS: Tell us more about your blue and gold macaws.

RE: Sila na yung pinakamalaking size nang parrot. Marami silang mga uri. . . Meron na akong apat na macaw, pero [focused] ako sa dalawa kasi sila yung lumilipad outdoor. Yung dalawa, hand feed pa ang sitwasyon.

AS: What about training?

RE: Lagi kong sinasabi sa mga [members namin] na walang secret sa free flight. . . Ang kailangan mo lang, focused ka at maganda ang bonding. Kailangan lang nila ng attention mo, then pakainin mo sila nang maayos para makalipad sila nang maganda.

AS: Are Macaws okay for beginners?

RE: I recommend them naman for beginners na small muna. Lagi ko rin tinatanong kung may experience na sila. May nagsabi sa akin na marunong siya sa aso. Sinabi ko na kahit ganyan, hindi pwedeng mag-jump in. Kung hindi siya marunong, mamamatayan siya. Kaya kahit may pera, nire-recommend ko yung madali alagaan at ma-experience muna mag-hand feed.

AS: How do you feed Macaws?

RE: May recommended tips for beginners when feeding. May mga member [kaming] gumagawa ng formula. Ang gagawin nila, yung mga seeds, ibe-blender nila para maging soft food. Kasama dito mga seeds na kailangang pampataba, more on protein kasi mga bata pa ang mga Macaw. Pero sa mga malalaki, may mga nag-iimport ng soft food. Ang pinapakain din sa kanila, seeds and vitamins na supplements. Gumagamit din ako ng vitamin C na pang-tao. Pampalakas iyon ng baga, at pang anti-stress. Bawal sa kanila ang avocado, asin at ibang maaalat na pagkain. Pati seeds ng apple, bawal. [Ang] kamatis at gatas, bawal din sa kanila.

AS: Is there a standard enclosure for Macaws?

RE: Mayroong standard cage para sa macaw. May macaw ako, yung cage niya ay 4x2x5 [feet]. Malaki iyon at mag-isa lang siya.

AS: How can you tell if a bird is healthy?

RE: Mapapansin mo yan sa katawan. Pag may sakit sila, parang nakatayo yung balahibo tapos hindi sila masyadong naglililipad. Kapag nahipo mo, payat rin yung katawan. Usually kasi nagkakasipon sila. Exposed kasi sila kapag nag-free flight sa outdoors. Minsan kasi, maaraw, tapos biglang uulan.

AS: Do you have any tips and reminders for people who would like to have a Macaw as a family member?

RE: Unang-una, kailangan nila ng time para sa mga alaga nila, kasi once na nag-start ka sa maliit, ang hand feeding niyan, every three hours. Kaya ang ginagawa namin, ina-alarm namin ang cellphone namin. Gigising ka ng madaling araw o alas-dose ng gabi para mag hand-feed. ‘Pag nalusutan mo ang time, kailangan naman nila ng bonding. Kailangan ulit ng time para makipag-bond. Nag-uumpisa na yan lumipad, so kailangan ma-introduce mo na sa kanya na “Ako yung master mo.” ‘Pag tinawag mo, bibigyan mo na siya ng pangalan. Kailangan niyan ng oras. Sa amin, nagse-schedule kami ng free flight pag Sunday. So, bonding kami ng grupo. Kailangan din ng oras ma-introduce sa outdoor ang macaw. So kailangan may oras for work and your alaga.Yung mga batang members namin, instead na matutok sila sa gadget, computer, o bisyo, nakatutok sila sa mga alaga nila. Kaya yung mga nanay nagsasabi sa akin, “Alam mo ba yung anak ko, umuuwi ng maaga?” Best example ko yung vice president, si Jasper, umuuwi siya nang maaga para lang mag hand-feed. Sa Sunday daw, hindi na siya umaalis para mag-big bike. Ang ginagawa niya [tuwing] Sunday, kasama niya na lang yung pamilya niya at parrot niya.

Free flight: Risky, but is it the way forward?

Espiritu has been talking about free flight and some of you may be thinking, what does that really mean? Well, as the name suggests, it’s about letting Macaws have unrestricted flight outside. However, the training required for both human and avian so that both can trust each other with free flight is very intensive and requires a lot of trust-building activities, combined with what is known as operant conditioning, where you reinforce and encourage positive or free flight related behavior in your Macaw.

And even with all this, there is still a considerable risk that your Macaw may fly off and never return, either because of confusion or because they have decided to go off on their own (which may not be a good idea if they head off to a place they can’t live in). However, it is also the ultimate expression of freedom and trust that you can demonstrate in a family of avians and humans. For some, that is more important.

Still, if you think that free flight is something you and your avian family member can handle, then by all means, read up, do the research, and join local free flight groups so you can learn and train your bird and yourself properly.

This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s February 2020 issue.

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