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Choosing a Red-Fronted Macaw

By: Dr. Susan Clubb

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Red-fronted macaws are very inquisitive, mischievous and animated. While they don't enjoy handling as much as a blue & gold, they are delightful pets because of their outgoing personalities.

Red-fronted macaws (Ara rubrogeneys) have a tiny range on the eastern Andean slope of southern Bolivia. They inhabit arid forest and scrubland where food sources are limited. They feed on locally available fruits; especially palm nut fruits, seeds, nuts and buds as well as cacti. They often raid crops of corn or peanuts.

Red-fronted macaws can live up to 40 years.

Appearance and Personality

Red-fronted macaws are medium sized green macaws. Red-fronted macaws are similar in color to military macaws but have red-orange crown, forehead and ear patches. The naked facial skin is rather small, white and has rows of black feather forming lines. The large shoulder patch is orange-red. The tail is long and tapered, and is olive tipped in blue. Red-fronted macaws are lively boisterous birds and require generous living space.

Young hand-raised macaws are very adaptable and 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 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.

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. In order to ensure safety companion macaws should not be allowed unsupervised freedom in the home as they often encounter toxins or dangerous items. 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 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 formulated diet. Also offer 1/4 cup of fresh fruits and vegetables. Give 2 to 3 nuts as treats. Best nuts are walnuts, macadamia, pecans, almonds and filberts. If peanuts are fed they should be opened and checked for mold first. 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.

Red-fronted macaws are somewhat 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 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. Macaws should have adequate space to move freely between 2 perches. Example of an appropriate suspended cage size for red-fronted macaws is 4 feet by 4 feet by 8 feet. Cages should be suspended 3 to 4 feet above the ground.

Cages for red-fronted macaws must be constructed of strong wire, although they are not as able to chew cages as the large macaws. Fourteen gauge welded wire, 1 inch by 1 inch works well for most pairs. As macaws are strong chewers, durable cage construction is very important. Many are also adept at opening cage latches. Locks or escape proof latches may be necessary on cages.

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

Breeding

Red-fronted macaws breed fairly well in captivity. Breeding season is usually in spring and early summer, although some pairs will breed almost year round. Clutch size is usually 2 to 4 eggs but sometimes more. Incubation period is average 25 days (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.

Red-fronted macaws like vertical wooden nest boxes approximately 12 inches by 12 inches by 24 inches or 16 inches by 16 inches by 24 inches. The box could also be horizontally. 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:

  • 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
  • Aspergillosis
  • Constricted toe syndrome, chicks
  • Beak malformations - chicks
  • Pancreatitis
  • Kidney disease - gout
  • Toxicity, heavy metal poisoning

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