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Choosing a Buffon's Macaw

By: Dr. Susan Clubb

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Buffon's macaws are often overlooked – plain Janes compared to other, more brilliantly colored birds. Mostly green, they have bright red frontal patches and are distinguished from the similar-looking military macaw by their lighter, yellowish- or olive-green color and by size. Buffon's macaws range from 30 to 35 inches long and are among the largest of all macaws, with massive heads and beaks.

The birds' facial skin is white with black feather lines, and their faces are expressive, blushing when the birds are excited. Tails are long and tapered, and the undersides of the birds' wings are gold; the upper sides of their flight feathers are blue.

The birds (Ara ambigua) are also known as the great green macaw and are native to Central and South America. There are two subspecies:

  • A. a. ambigua, found in Central America.

  • A. a. guayaquilensis, found in Ecuador. The beaks of these birds are smaller than other Buffon's, and they have a greenish coloration on the undersides of flight and tail feathers.

    In the wild, Buffon's macaws are found in lowland humid forests, deciduous forests and lower mountain forests, where the birds feed mostly on fruits, palm nuts and flowers, foraging primarily in the forest canopy. In Ecuador the population is endangered by habitat destruction and reduced to approximately 100 individuals. They nest in cavities, especially in large soft wood trees and usually fly in pairs or small family groups.

    Macaws are not as long-lived as cockatoos, but Buffon's can live up to about 50 years. Young, hand-raised macaws are very adaptable and are easily handled by many people.

    In general, macaws can make excellent pets, especially Hyacinths and Buffon's, although some have a tendency to become nippy. Macaws can be very loud as well as destructive, but are favorites for shows and trick training. While some speak, most macaws have limited ability to mimic.

    Buffon's are uncommon in captivity. They are especially mischievous, playful and love to chew. They should always be provided with toys, especially wooden blocks and branches from non-toxic trees. Young macaws should be socialized to many people and exposed to a variety of situations such as new cages, toys, visits to the veterinarian, handling by friends, wing and nail clips, etc. to avoid fear of novel situations.

    Feeding

    All macaws need plenty of energy. Many of their natural foods, especially palm nuts, are rich in oils and calories.

    Macaws should be fed a formulated (pelleted or extruded) diet supplemented with fresh fruits and vegetables daily to add variety and psychological enrichment. Feed approximately 1/4 cup formulated diet and offer 1/4 cup of fresh fruits and vegetables. Give five or six nuts as treats: Walnuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, almonds and filberts are good choices. Peanuts are often contaminated with molds and should be opened to inspect for mold prior to feeding. Brazil nuts are a favorite but are also often contaminated. Small amounts of seed may also be given as treats especially as rewards for good behavior. Vitamin supplements are not needed for birds eating a formulated diet.

    Buffon's macaws are difficult to hand feed from a very early age. They require a high-fat diet and do well with additional protein as well, 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 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 the 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. They must be allowed space to fully extend their wings or muscle atrophy will occur, rendering them unable to fly (wingspan is approximately 3 feet). An example of an appropriate suspended cage size for large macaws is 6 feet by 6 feet by 10 feet, although larger is better. Cages should be suspended 4 feet above the ground. Cages for large macaws must be constructed of strong wire that can withstand chewing. Chain link may be needed for pairs that break welded wire caging. Many are also adept at opening cage latches, so locks or escape-proof latches may be necessary.

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

    Breeding

    Buffon's macaws are not bred frequently in captivity. The birds mature at about 5 to 7 years, and their breeding age is up to approximately 30 to 35 years.

    The birds usually breed in spring and early summer, although some pairs will breed almost year-round. Clutch size is usually two to four eggs, but sometimes more. The incubation period is 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.

    For nest boxes, use large horizontal wooden boxes (approximately 16 inches by 16 inches by 36 inches or 48 inches). Some will breed well in a vertical wooden box (of the same size). Metal, plastic or wooden barrels can be used. 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. Females tend to be more aggressive than males.

    Common Diseases and Disorders

    Buffon's 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 (warts)
  • Psittacosis (chlamydiosis)
  • Bacterial, viral and fungal infections
  • Chewing flight and tail feathers (among juveniles)
  • Constricted-toe syndrome (chicks)
  • Beak malformations (chicks)
  • Pancreatitis
  • Allergies, especially to cockatoos
  • Kidney disease (gout)
  • Toxicity, heavy metal poisoning

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