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Choosing a Severe Macaw

By: Dr. Susan Clubb

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Severe macaws are inquisitive, mischievous and animated. While they don't enjoy handling as much as a blue and golds, they are delightful pets because of their outgoing personalities.

Severe macaws (Ara severa) have an extensive range extending from Panama down the Pacific slope of the Andes to Ecuador. The range also extends east of the Andes in the upland slopes of the Amazon basin to Bolivia and northeast to Surinam. They feed on locally available fruits, especially palm nut fruits, seeds, nuts and buds.

Their life span is unknown, but it is probably up to 30 to 40 years.

Appearance and Personality

Severe macaws are small green macaws. They are similar in color to military macaws but have a chestnut colored forehead. The naked facial skin is large, white and has rows of black feathers forming lines and a shoulder patch that is orange-red. The tail is long and tapered and is maroon and blue. Mini macaws are lively boisterous birds and require generous living space.

Young hand-raised macaws are very adaptable and typically easily handled by many people. Macaws make excellent pets, although some have a tendency to become nippy. They can be very loud as well as destructive, and while some speak, most macaws have a 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 1/3 cup of a formulated diet. Also offer 1/3 cup of fresh fruits and vegetables. Give one to two small nuts such as almonds 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.

Severe 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 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 allow. 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 two perches. Example of appropriate suspended cage size for severe macaws is 3 feet by 3 feet by 6 feet or 4 feet by 4 feet by 8 feet. Cages should be suspended 3 to 4 feet above the ground.

Cages for severe 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

Severe 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 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.

Severe macaws like vertical wooden nest boxes about 12 inches by 12 inches by 24 inches. 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

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

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