The Blue and Gold Macaw (Ara ararauna) is also known as the Blue and Yellow Macaw and is a large parrot from South America.
Blue and Gold Macaws are found in Venezuela, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay. There are also small populations in Panama and a small isolated breeding colony in Miami-Dade County in Florida. They once occupied Trinidad but were declared extinct there in the 1970s due to human activity. There have been attempts as repopulation in 1999 and 2003 with wild birds caught in Guyana. These macaws live in forest areas known as varzea as well as areas of non-flooded forest and woodlands.
The Blue and Gold can reach between 76-86cm and weigh from 900 to 1500 grams, making it among the largest of the family. The have bright blue wings and tail, dark blue feathers under the chin, golden breast and belly and a green forehead. Their beaks are black, and the skin around their face is featherless and white, lined with tiny black feathers. This facial skin can flush pink when excited or angry and wrinkles as they get older!
Their life expectancy is around 60 years. They typically live in pairs or small family groups but will gather into larger groups early on a morning or late in the afternoon to fly from their feeding grounds to their roosting spots.
The big, powerful beak is used for breaking nuts to eat and also for climbing around trees and even hanging from branches. Their died is primarily nuts with seeds and fruits. They also use clay from riverbeds as a digestive aid to get rid of any toxins from unripened food. This is now available in a supplement block for captive birds with similar content.
In captivity, they need a varied diet to avoid health problems, especially vitamin deficiencies. They thrive on a good pellet and seed mix with nuts, dried fruit and fresh vegetables and fruits added. They enjoy oranges, apples, grapes, peanuts, walnuts and sunflower seeds but should not be given cherries as the pips and seeds are toxic, as are avocados, chocolate and caffeine. They will love to share a meal with their owner and can be fed small amounts of foods such as bread or pasta.
As a general rule, blue and golds mate for life. They nest in dead palms, particularly in the Mauritia flexuosa palm trees. The female lays two or three eggs which she incubates for around 28 days. As is the case with many large birds, the first chick to hatch tends to be so much larger than its siblings that it is the only one to survive. The female alone feeds the chick for the first week then the male beings to help. Feathers start to come through at around 17 days and fledging comes at around 97 days. They begin to feed on their own at this stage but will be aggressively defended by their parents.
In captivity, they will need a nest box around 16x16x48inches. They can reproduce from the age of 3-4 years and will breed each year or sometimes every other year. Breeding season depends on where they live.
These birds are highly intelligent and also need a lot of space to be content. The World Parrot Trust states that an enclosure for one of these macaws should be no smaller than 15 metres (50 foot) in length. They learn to do tricks for their owners, with whom they will bond very strongly and make very loving companions.
If kept in the house, then the areas they will have access to need to be bird proofed. This means covering up electrical wiring with plastic tubing, for example, as parrots investigate everything by biting it and will chew anything.
Due to their size, they can also make a lot of noises. Even the best trained bird will ‘scream’ and make other loud noises, which is done in the wild to call to their flock. They are also naturally chewers, so this behaviour is to be expected. This means that if they are kept in a cage for some of the time, it will need to be very sturdy to withstand their attentions.
Boredom can lead to behaviour problems which can escalate from screaming to biting and feather plucking or even the extreme of self-mutilation. For this reason, parrot toys should be provided to stimulate the bird and to avoid boredom, to challenge them.
Most experienced macaw owners state that you should not take on one of these birds as a pet unless you are willing to include them in almost everything you do. Special harnesses can be purchased which will allow the bird to go outside without the risk of it becoming frightened and flying off. As much time out of the cage as possible should be an essential part of the day.
For the best condition of feathers, Blue and Golds need water to bathe in. Spraying is a favoured method or even a special shower perch which will allow them to have a shower in the best place in the house – the bathroom. A lack of humidity or bathing can lead to feathers drying out and causing skin irritation and itching.
Blue and Gold Macaws not only learn to talk but show an understanding of the words they are using. This is another example of their high intelligence.
This big bird would make a wonderful addition to the family but is not a bird to be taken home lightly. They have specialist requirements and needs which can result in disaster if not catered for and can make a serious amount of noise. They need to be part of the family and interact with everyone, not merely sit in a cage, so you have to be aware of what around your house they could get into mischief with. But if you think you can handle these issues, this affectionate and entertaining bird could be perfect for you.