The Scarlet Macaw

The Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao) is a group of parrots called macaws which live in the humid, evergreen forests of South America.  It is probably one of the most recognisable birds, even to those not interested in bird keeping with its brilliant red, blue and yellow plumage, long tail and hooked beak.  They are not sexually dimorphic so it is very difficult to sex visually.

It is found through south-east Mexico to the Amazon areas of Peru, Bolivia, Venezuela and Brazil.  In the wild, there has been a drop in numbers due to loss of habitat and capture for the parrot trade but local populations have steadied in numbers and is not considered endangered at this time.

Scarlet Macaws are typically around 81cm in length, although around half of this is composed of their tail.  They weigh around 1 kilogram.  The white patches around their eyes are bare skin, and they have light yellow eyes with horn-coloured beaks.  Typical lifespan in the wild is around 40-50 years but in captivity they can live to around 75. 

Keeping Scarlet Macaws

These are big birds who can make a serious amount of noise.  They have requirements and needs which if aren’t met, can lead to health problems such as feather plucking.  But away from the downsides, these are very intelligent birds who are very affectionate and enjoy spending time with their humans if they have been hand raised.

If kept in a cage, they need to be out of this cage for periods every day.  As well as this, there should be toys in their cage for them to keep occupied with, but remember parrots are chewers – things will get destroyed.  This is a good sign which means the bird has thoroughly used the toy, but may mean replacements are needed quite often.  Bored birds can become destructive, much as a bored human would be if locked in a box with nothing to do. 

Another tip is to invest in a lock for the cage door when they are in there, as these birds are smart enough to work out how to open them and escape!  It is suggested that the best place to stand a cage is somewhere free from draughts and in natural sunlight.  This is crucial for birds as they get vitamins from the sunlight which helps maintain skin and feathers in good condition.  The bird will also benefit from a location where they can interact with the family even when in the cage, not in a room alone where no-one is.  Lastly, placing the cage against a wall helps the birds feel safe.

Macaws enjoy misting from a spray bottle with room temperature warmth water.  Try to avoid spraying them directly in the face, and once they have learned this is a pleasant experience, they will enjoy their bathing.  Some birds may enjoying a typical bird bath so a fresh bowl of water should be offered large enough for the bird to fit in and not too deep.  Then stand back, or you may get a shower as well!

Diet

Scarlet Macaws are large birds so, therefore, they have large food requirements.  Macaws will often pick up a piece of food with their left foot to eat it while balancing themselves with their right foot.  In the wild, their diet consists of fruit and nuts, supplemented with nectar and flowers.  They can break open nuts not available to other birds due to the powerful nature of their beak.  They also sometimes consume clay on the river banks as it contains a chemical such as tannin which they use when eating fruit to help with digestion.

There are a number of good quality specialist food available for the base diet of these birds, and it is supplemented with fresh fruits and vegetables.  Favoured fresh foods include; peppers, berries, papaya, mango, melons, grapes, bananas, pomegranates, turnips and carrots.  Every bird will have particular likes and dislikes so it can be a case of trying different options to see what your bird favours.

Breeding

Scarlet Macaws mate for life so bear in mind if you are lucky enough to have the right facilities to house a pair, once they are together they cannot be separated.  They sleep in a nest together at night and fly around as a pair in the wild and will lick each other’s faces and mutually preen to pair bond.

Compared with some of the other macaw species, Scarlets are relatively easy to breed and are reliable once started. 

One thing to remember is that once they enter the breeding cycle, they can become more aggressive towards humans or other birds who may pose a threat.  This will ease after breeding but with such a powerful beak, is something to watch for.

The birds usually breeding spring or early summer and use a large nest box in captivity.  These usually measure 24x24x36inches, and the birds will add chewed materials to the bottom.  Pine shavings can also be spread in the bottom to help.

The clutch size is usually 2-4 eggs.  They are incubated mainly by the female for around 24-25 days and remain with their parents for one to two years.  For this reason, breeding may only occur every other year as they will not produce another clutch until the first one has left.  The chicks are sexually mature at 3-4 years.

Conclusion

These are large birds who need a good amount of space and have more needs than a smaller, less intelligent bird.  They need to interact thoroughly with their humans and/or other birds and need toys to keep them active when they are in the cage.  They make as large as noise as their stature would suggest so keep this in mind when acquiring one of these birds.  They will cost a lot of money, especially if you are buying a hand reared bird which has taken someone a great deal of time and work to raise.  But they are intelligent a bird as you could wish for and if you give them the right conditions, will be a companion second to none.


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