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Choosing a Green-winged Macaw

By: Dr. Susan Clubb

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Green-winged macaws (Ara chloroptera) are deep red with green wing coverts. Their facial skin has red feather lines and the rump feathers are pale blue; flight feathers are dark blue. They are distinguished from the smaller scarlet macaw by color (scarlets are a lighter, brighter red) and the scarlet's lack of facial feather lines.

These birds are among the largest of the macaws, with massive heads as well as large beaks, which are strong enough to open nuts. In the wild, green-winged macaws are found in Panama, but their primary range is throughout the tropical lowland forests of central South America, the Amazon Basin and south into Bolivia and Argentina. Green-winged macaws – which are less common in the marketplace than blue and golds – are also found in lowland humid forests, deciduous forests and lower mountain forests, where they eat primarily fruits, palm nuts and flowers, foraging primarily in the forest canopy. They nest in cavities, especially in large, soft wood trees, but also in crevices and cliffs. Usually, they fly in pairs or small family groups.

In general, macaws are lively, boisterous birds. However, with proper handling, green wings can be gentle and docile. Young, hand-raised macaws are very adaptable and are easily handled by many people. They must be socialized, though, 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.

Overall, macaws are very intelligent, relatively easy to train and a favorite for shows and trick training. Green-wings – which can live up to 50 years - can make excellent pets, although some have a tendency to become nippy. The downside is that many macaws can be very loud as well as destructive. While some speak, most have only limited ability to mimic.

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

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. Feed approximately 1/3 cup diet and 1/3 cup of fresh fruits and vegetables. Give five to six nuts as treats. Walnuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, almonds and filberts are good choices. Peanuts and Brazil nuts are often contaminated with molds and should be opened to inspect for mold prior to feeding. 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.

Green-winged macaws are 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 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 they can be 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. At the very least, macaws must be allowed space to fully extend their wings or their muscles will atrophy, rendering them unable to fly. As macaws are strong chewers, durable cage construction is very important. 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

Green-winged macaws are bred frequently in captivity. However, they may take years to adapt to captivity and become productive (breeding age is up to approximately 30 to 35 years). Breeding season is usually in spring and early summer, although a few pairs will breed almost year round. Clutch size is usually two to four eggs. Incubation period averages 25.5 days (23 to 27 days). Some additional nuts and 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 boxes (approximately 24 inches by 24 inches by 36 inches or 48 inches) are well accepted by green-winged macaws, while some will breed well in a vertical wooden box (approximately 24 inches by 24 inches by 36 inches). Macaws should be provided with plentiful chewing material. Pine shavings make excellent nest box bedding.

Macaws must be able to open their wings without touching the sides of their breeding cage and should have adequate space to move freely between two perches. Example of appropriate suspended cage size for large macaws is 6 foot by 6 foot by 10 foot, although larger is better. Cages should be suspended three to four feet above the ground.

Cages for large macaws must be constructed of strong wire, which can withstand chewing. Chain link may be needed for pairs that break welded-wire caging.

When breeding macaws, noise and proximity to neighbors must be considered.

Common Diseases and Disorders

Macaws are relatively healthy birds but are susceptible to the following:

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

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