Macaws - General Information

By Laurie Hess, DVM; Rick Axelson, DVM

Macaws (Ara species) are the largest members of the parrot family. These magnificent, vividly colored birds originate from Mexico and Central and South America. They have long, tapered tails, strong bodies, and large, powerful beaks. Macaws are intelligent, playful, and inquisitive. They are high maintenance birds that require a great deal of space to house. They also require a lot of daily affection and attention. Some macaws will bond with one person, showing aggression towards others, while others tend to be more nervous and excitable. Other macaws, especially the smaller species, tend to be calmer. Macaws are able to learn words but are not well known for their talking ability. Their vocalizations tend to be loud, harsh, penetrating squawks.

Macaws love to play and chew. Their impressively large beak can be exceedingly destructive. They must be provided with a continuous supply of hard wood, plastic, leather, and cardboard bird-safe toys to afford many hours of entertainment and exercise.

"Despite the exotic appeal of macaws, they are unsuitable for many
households and family situations."

Some commonly kept macaws include the blue and gold macaw, scarlet macaw, severe macaw, green-winged macaw, and hyacinth macaw. Despite the exotic appeal of macaws, they are unsuitable for many households and family situations due to their loud screeching, destructive behavior, and their great need for daily attention and time out of their cages. The blue and gold macaw, although mischievous, is perhaps the macaw most commonly kept as a pet. The severe macaw, considered to be one of the “mini-macaw” species, is almost half the size of the larger macaws and has a gentle but noisy demeanor.

Obtaining a Macaw

Macaws may be purchased from pet stores or reputable breeders or adopted from rescue organizations. Young birds may be easier to tame and train than older, wild-caught, or colony- or parent-raised birds. Hand-raised babies often are more affectionate pets, since they have been socialized with humans. Young birds typically adapt more readily to new environments and situations. New birds should be exposed early to different events (different people, other pets, car trips, visits to the veterinarian, etc.) to help them become calmer, more well-adjusted pets. Healthy birds are more likely to be lively, alert, and not easily stressed. After bringing your new bird home, you should have it examined by a veterinarian familiar with birds to help ensure that it is healthy.

Veterinary Care

Like all other pet birds, macaws require routine annual veterinary health check-ups. Your veterinarian can perform a physical examination, grooming (including nail or wing trims, as necessary), and laboratory tests, as needed. During these annual health check-ups, your veterinarian can address nutritional and care issues. Veterinary check-ups help prevent disease and aid in the maintenance of a long-lasting, healthy relationship between you and your bird.

Characteristics and Housing


  • Macaws come in a rainbow of color combinations (including blue, green, yellow, red, orange, and rusty brown), depending on the species.

  • Most have a white area of skin surrounding the eyes, extending to the beak

Similar to the adult

Sexing: No obvious external sex differences between males and females. Blood tests are generally performed to distinguish between males and females.

Weight: Average (depending on species) 9-50 ounces (250-1400 grams).

Size: Average (depending on species) 12-40 inches (30-100 cm) in length.

Life span: Average is 25-35 years (maximum 60 years).

Breeding: Sexual maturity occurs at 4-7 years, depending on the species. Most are difficult to breed in captivity.

Brood Size: 4-7 white eggs hatch in 23 - 28 days; young leave the nest in 3 months.

Cage: Minimum 2 ft wide x 2 ft tall x 3 ft long (60 cm x 60 cm x 90 cm) for smaller species. Minimum 3 ft wide x 4 ft tall x 4 ft long (90 cm x 120 cm x 120 cm) for larger species.

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