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Choosing a Red-Bellied Macaw

By: Dr. Susan Clubb

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Red-bellied macaws are small green "mini" macaws that are very rarely bred in captivity. Young birds do not have a good survival rate. A high percentage die of kidney disease at a young age. Their pet quality is questionable.

Red-bellied macaws (Ara manilata) have a large range extending throughout the Amazon Basin and North to the Guyana and Surinam. They are dependent of wet, swampy palm forests and closely linked to the swamp palm Mauritia flexuosa, which is their primary source of food.

Red-bellied macaws can live up to 30 to 40 years. They typically don't adapt well to captivity and are not long lived in captivity.

Appearance and Personality

Red-bellied macaws are different from all other macaws in having yellow facial skin without feathered facial lines. The belly has a large maroon patch. The tail is long and tapered, and is maroon below and green above. The beak is small. Red-bellied macaws have an annoying high-pitched call that is unlike other macaws.

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. Red-bellies can be difficult to convert to formulated diets and may require a predominately seed diet. 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 one to two small nuts, such as almonds, as treats. Red-bellied macaws readily eat peanuts but the nuts should be shelled and inspected for mold prior to feeding. Seed may be required. Vitamin supplements are not needed for birds that are eating a formulated diet but are needed for a seed diet.

Red-bellied macaws are difficult to hand feed from a very early age. We don't really understand their nutritional requirements but believe they require a diet high in fat and protein. Specific nutrients may be required due to their relatively limited diet in the wild.

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 should have adequate space to move freely between 2 perches. Example of an appropriate suspended cage size for red-bellied macaws is 3 feet by 3 feet by 6 feet. Cages should be suspended 3 to 4 feet above the ground.

Cages for red-bellied macaws should be constructed of 14 gauge welded wire, 1 inch by 1 inch or 1 inch by 1 inch works well. Macaws must have adequate space to move between 2 perches. Ideally pet macaws can also have a large cage outdoors for bathing and exercise. Red-bellied macaws are shy and should be provided with a retreat.

Breeding

Red-bellied macaws do not breed well in captivity. Clutch size is usually 2 to 4 eggs but sometimes more. Incubation period is approximately 23 to 26 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.

Red-bellied macaws like vertical wooden box. Macaws should be provided with plentiful chewing material. Pine shavings make excellent nest box bedding. They often soil their nest boxes and may require frequent cleaning, especially if they have a perch inside the box.

Red-bellied macaws are not as loud as large macaws however proximity to neighbors must be considered as their call is particularly shrill. 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:

  • Proventricular Dilatation Disease (Macaw wasting disease)
  • Feather picking
  • Psittacosis (chlamydiosis)
  • Bacterial, viral and fungal infections
  • Pancreatitis
  • Kidney Disease - gout
  • Toxicity, heavy metal poisoning
  • Malnutrition, picky eaters

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