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Choosing a Military Macaw

By: Dr. Susan Clubb

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Military macaws (Ara militaris) are among the largest parrots. These lively, boisterous birds are often overlooked as plain-colored compared to the more brilliantly colored macaws. But, as with other macaws, military macaws are very intelligent and relatively easy to train. They are a favorite for shows and trick training.

Military macaws have small, isolated ranges in Central and South America. In Mexico, they are found in the foothills of mountainous terrain, in arid pine and oak forests and savannahs. In South America, they are found in hilly rainforests (mostly in Venezuela, Bolivia and Colombia).

They feed on locally available fruits, especially palm nut fruits, nuts and buds. These macaws nest in cavities, especially in large soft wood trees in which they can modify the nest cavity. They usually fly in pairs or small family groups, but will occasionally travel in flocks of 25 birds.

Macaws are not as long lived as cockatoos, but they do have lengthy life spans. A 40-year-old macaw shows definite signs of aging. A 50-year-old macaw is very old.

Appearance and Personality

Military macaws are mostly green with a bright red frontal patch. Though similar to Buffon's macaws, military macaws are a bit smaller and have a darker forest green color. The naked facial skin, which blushes when the macaw is excited, is white with black feather lines.

The tail is long and tapered. The underside of the wings are gold and the upper side of the flights feathers are blue. Their beaks are large and strong for opening large nuts (large species).

Young hand-raised macaws are very adaptable. and they are typically easily handled by many people. They must 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 generally can make excellent pets, especially hyacinths and militarys, 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.

Macaws are playful and love to chew. They should always be provided with toys, especially wooden blocks that can be chewed, and branches from non-toxic trees. To ensure 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 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 and psychological enrichment. Feed approximately 1/4 cup pellets daily. Also offer 1/4 cup of fresh fruits and vegetables. Give two or 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.

Militarys are difficult to hand-feed at 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 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 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. Macaws MUST be allowed space to fully extend their wings or muscle atrophy will occur rendering them unable to fly. This means they should 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 5 feet by 5 feet by 8 feet, although larger is better. Cages should be suspended 3 to 4 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. Locks or escape proof latches may be necessary on cages.

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

Breeding

Military macaws are bred frequently 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 average 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). Metal, plastic or wooden barrels may also 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. Pair bonds are strong but not necessarily life-long.

Common Diseases and Disorders

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

  • 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
  • Proventricular Dilatation Disease (Macaw wasting disease)

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