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Choosing a Blue-Throated Macaw

By: Dr. Susan Clubb

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Blue-throated macaws, sometimes called caninde macaws, are often confused with the common blue-and-gold macaw. They are similar in color to blue-and-golds, but they are smaller (about 34 inches long), with a blue throat. Blue-throated macaws are beautiful birds: a brilliant ultramarine blue above (slightly more aqua than a blue and gold) and gold beneath. The naked facial skin patch is white and has rows of blue feathers forming lines. The facial skin blushes with excitement and the tail is long and tapered, blue above and gold beneath.

Macaws are lively, boisterous birds and require generous living space. Wild blue-throated macaws are shy and reclusive, but hand-fed birds are very mischievous, curious and outgoing.

Blue-throated macaws (Ara glaucogularis) have a tiny range limited to the Bolivian Pantanal, a seasonal floodplain in the Beni province (northern Bolivia). Biologists have only recently observed them for the first time.

The wild population is very small: Probably only 100 to 1,000 individuals remain in the wild. In fact, since they breed well in captivity, it is possible that there are more captive birds than there are wild ones. In nature, they inhabit forests near riverbanks, and palm groves, which form islands of habitat in the grasslands. They feed on locally available fruits, especially palm nut fruits, nuts and buds.

They are still being trapped for illegal trade, although international trade requires both import and export permits. Blue-throated macaws are not common in captivity, but they are available in the United States (chicks are priced starting at $3,500).

Immature birds have dark eyes, which change over time from black to gray to white to yellow. This progression can be used to estimate the age of a macaw.

Life Span and Personality

Macaws are not as long-lived as cockatoos. These particular birds' potential life span is unknown but they can probably live up to 50 years. They reach maturity at 3 to 6 years. Breeding age is up to approximately 30 to 35 years. In general, a 40-year-old macaw shows definite signs of aging. A 50-year-old macaw is very old.

Macaws are very intelligent and relatively easy to train. They are a favorite for shows and trick training. Blue-throated macaws are very inquisitive, mischievous, animated and love to chew. They should always be provided with toys, especially wooden blocks that can be chewed, and branches from non-toxic trees. While they don't enjoy handling as much as blue and golds do, they are delightful pets and aviary subjects because of their outgoing personalities.

Young hand-raised macaws are very adaptable. They should be socialized and exposed to a variety of experiences (veterinary visits, other pets, visitors, wing and nail trims, car rides, etc.) at a young age to avoid fearful behavior. Macaws can make excellent pets, although some have a tendency to become nippy. Macaws can be very loud as well as destructive. While some speak, most macaws have limited ability to mimic.

Feeding

All macaws need plenty of energy for good health. Many of their natural foods, especially palm nuts, are rich in oils and calories. Macaws should be fed a formulated (pelleted or extruded) diet as a basis for good nutrition. The diet should be supplemented with fresh fruits and vegetables daily to add variety. Feed approximately 1/3 cup of formulated diet. Also offer 1/3 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-throated macaws are moderately difficult to hand feed from a very early age. They require a high-fat diet and 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 the diet 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 dryer. An ideal way to bathe macaws is to put them in a cage outside, sprinkle them with a hose, and allow them to dry in the sun. Since macaws are strong fliers, most of their 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 Many are also adept at opening cage latches, so locks or escape-proof latches may be necessary. 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. Ideally, pet macaws should have a large cage outdoors for bathing and exercise.

Cages for large macaws must be constructed of strong wire, which can withstand chewing. 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.

Breeding

Blue-throated macaws breed well 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 is about 23 to 27 days. Some additional high-fat 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 (approximately 16 inches by 16 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

The blue-throated macaw is a relatively healthy bird. 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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