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Choosing an Illiger's Macaw

By: Dr. Susan Clubb

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Illiger's macaws are small green birds (about 15 inches long) similar in appearance to severe's macaws except for a small spot of red on the forehead. The birds – also called blue-winged macaws – have red belly patches and long, tapered maroon-and-blue tails. Their naked facial skin is white, with rows of black feather lines. They probably live up to 30 to 40 years, but their precise life span is unknown.

These birds are very inquisitive, mischievous and animated, although like most macaws some have a tendency to become nippy. While they make good pets and aviary subjects, they are not readily available in the U.S. market.

In general, young, hand-raised macaws are very adaptable and 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. On the down side, macaws can be very loud as well as destructive. While some speak, most have limited ability to mimic. Since they love to chew, they should always be provided with toys, especially wooden blocks, and branches from non-toxic trees.

In the wild, Illiger's macaws (Ara maracana or Propyrrhura maracana) have a large range, extending from eastern Brazil south of the Amazon, to Paraguay and extending west through the Brazilian Pantanal. They live in a variety of forests, forest edge, woodland and savanna habitats, feeding on locally available fruits, especially palm nut fruits, as well as seeds, nuts and buds. An isolated population co-exists with Spix's macaws in the state of Bahia, Brazil. Note that although these birds have a large range, their wild populations have declined due to massive habitat destruction.

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 supplemented with fresh fruits and vegetables daily to add variety and psychological enrichment. Feed approximately 1/3 cup high-energy diet and 1/3 cup of fresh fruits and vegetables. Also offer 1 to 2 small treats, such as almonds (or small amounts of seed), as rewards for good behavior. Vitamin supplements are not needed for birds eating a formulated diet.

Illiger's macaws are difficult to hand-feed from a very early age. They
require a high-fat diet and do well with additional protein, too, especially when very young. A small amount of peanut butter or ground sunflower seeds added to their food will 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 outdoors, 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

These are lively, boisterous birds, which require generous living space. They must have adequate space to move between two perches. Ideally, pet macaws should also have a large cage outdoors for bathing and exercise.

Breeding

Illiger's macaws reach maturity at 2 to 3 years of age and 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 averages 23 to 25 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.

Illiger's macaws like vertical wooden nest boxes about 12 inches by 12 inches by 24 inches. They should be provided with plentiful chewing material. Pine shavings make excellent nest box bedding.

Macaws should have adequate space to move freely between two perches. Example of appropriate suspended cage size for Illiger's macaws is 3 feet by 3 feet by 6 feet suspended 3 to 4 feet above the ground.

Cages for Illiger's macaws must be constructed of strong wire; 14-gauge
welded wire, 1 inch by 1 inch, works well for most pairs. Illiger's macaws are not as loud as large macaws however proximity to neighbors must be considered.

Mate aggression is uncommon in macaws and pair bonds are strong, but not necessarily lifelong.

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)
  • Chewing flight and tail feathers (juveniles)
  • Bacterial, viral and fungal infections
  • Beak malformations (chicks)
  • Pancreatitis
  • Kidney Disease (gout)
  • Toxicity, heavy metal poisoning

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