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Choosing a Blue and Gold Macaw

By: Dr. Susan Clubb

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Blue and gold macaws (Ara ararauna) are prized for their beauty and personality. They make excellent pets, although some have a tendency to become nippy. Blue and golds have an extensive range throughout most of tropical South America, from eastern Panama and lowland Colombia, and a large range throughout the Amazon basin. They inhabit forests of many types and usually fly in pairs or small family groups, but sometimes you'll see flocks of up to 25 birds.

Blue and gold macaws can live up to 50 years.

Appearance and Personality

Among the largest of the parrots, they are a brilliant ultramarine blue above and gold beneath. Their black throats distinguish them from the blue-throated macaw. The naked facial skin is white and has rows of black feather forming lines. The facial skin blushes with excitement. The tail, which is almost as long as the body, is long and tapered, blue above and gold beneath.

Young, hand-raised macaws are very adaptable and easily handled by many people. They must be socialized at a young age and exposed to a variety of experiences (veterinary visits, houseguests, and car rides) to avoid fearful behavior. Macaws can be very loud as well as destructive. While some speak, most macaws have limited ability to mimic. They are, however, very intelligent and relatively easy to train.

Macaws are playful and love to chew. They should always be provided with toys, especially wooden blocks and branches from non-toxic trees. In order to ensure safety, companion macaws should not be allowed unsupervised freedom in the home as they often encounter toxins or dangerous items.

Feeding

Macaws should be fed a formulated (pelleted or extruded) diet supplemented with fresh fruits and vegetables. Feed approximately 1/2 cup pellets. Also offer 1/2 cup of fresh fruits and vegetables. Give two to three nuts as treats. Small amounts of seed may also be given as treats, especially as rewards for good behavior. Vitamin supplements are not needed for birds that are eating a formulated diet.

Blue and golds are moderately difficult to hand feed from a very early age. They require a high-fat diet and also do well with additional protein, especially at a very young age. A small amount of peanut butter or ground sunflower seeds may be added to increase protein and fat levels.

Grooming

Routine bathing or showering is vital to maintaining good plumage and skin condition. Birds can be misted and allowed to dry in a warm room or in the sun, or dried with a blow drier. An ideal way to bathe macaws is to put them in a cage outside, sprinkle them with the hose, and allow them to dry in the sun. Macaws are strong fliers. Most primary flight feathers (10 feathers closest to the tip of the wing) should be clipped to prevent flight. Clip only enough so the bird will glide to the floor.

Housing

Macaws are very active and should be provided the largest cage that space and budget allows. Macaws must be able to open their wings without touching the sides of their breeding cage (wing span is approximately three feet) and should have adequate space to move freely between two perches. Example of appropriate suspended cage size for large macaws is 5 feet by 5 feet by 8 feet, although larger is better. Cages should be suspended three to four feet above the ground.

As macaws are strong chewers, durable cage construction is very important. Twelve gauge welded wire, 1 inch by 1 inch works well for most pairs. Chain link may be needed for pairs that break welded wire caging. Many are also adept at opening cage latches, so locks and escape-proof latches may be necessary.

Ideally, pet macaws should also have a large cage outdoors for bathing and exercise.

Breeding

Blue and gold macaws are bred regularly in captivity. Breeding season is usually in spring and early summer, although some pairs will breed almost year round. Clutch size is usually two to four eggs but sometimes more. Incubation period averages 25.5 days (23 to 27 days). Some additional high fats seeds, like sunflower seed, should be added to the diet during the breeding season to stimulate reproduction. Inexperienced hand feeders should allow the parents to feed for the first few weeks.

Large horizontal wooden nest boxes (about 24 inches by 24 inches by 36 inches or 48 inches) are well accepted by large macaws while some will breed well in a vertical wooden box (about 12 inches by 12 inches by 36 inches). Macaws should be provided with plentiful chewing material. Pine shavings make excellent nest box bedding.

When breeding macaws, noise and proximity to neighbors must be considered. Mate aggression is uncommon in macaws. Pair bonds are strong but not necessarily life long.

Common Diseases and Disorders

Blue and gold macaws are relatively healthy birds. The following diseases have been reported in this species:

  • Proventricular Dilatation Disease (Macaw wasting disease)
  • Feather picking
  • Oral and cloacal papillomas
  • Psittacosis (chlamydiosis)
  • Chewing flight and tail feathers by juveniles
  • Bacterial, viral and fungal infections
  • Constricted toe syndrome, chicks
  • Beak malformations - chicks
  • Pancreatitis
  • Allergies, especially to cockatoos
  • Kidney Disease - gout
  • Toxicity, heavy metal poisoning

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