Origin: Central and South America
Order: Psittaciformes (parrots)
Family: Psittacidae (family of true parrots)
Subfamily: Arinae (New World parrots)
Species: A. Macao
Weight: about 1kg
Height: 32in / 81cm
Wingspan: 44 – 47in / 110 – 119cm
Appearance: The name of this parrot comes from its colour they’re bright red with a slightly orange tinge on the main body. The rump and tailcovert feathers are coloured in light blue, their upper wings are yellow, flight feathers and the tail feathers’ ends are dark blue, the under side of the wings and the tail flight feathers are coloured in dark red. The face around the eyes is white. The upper part of the beak is mostly pale horn and the lower part is black, the eyes of adult birds are yellow.
Procreation: Just like other large-sized parrots, Scarlet Macaws are monogamous – they mate for life and build their nests in tree cavities. The female lays 2-3 eggs and incubates them for about 5 weeks. The juveniles live with their family for about a year.
Temperament: Scarlet Macaws are very sensitive, calm and loving pets. They truly enjoy human company. They are also very intelligent and have a great sense of humour, love games or toys, and like to chew. These parrots are popular bird pets, because of their great personalities they are playful, energetic, love to cuddle and like showers. They can be good friends and often make their owners laugh with their funny tricks and sounds.
Talkativeness: The Scarlet Macaw’s attractive appearance and mostly its great ability to talk is one of the many reasons why people choose it as a pet bird. They can perfectly imitate human sounds, words and phrases and can easily learn tricks. They do need a lot of time, physical exercise and training. Scarlet Macaws make very loud noises they squawk, squeak and scream.
Environment: Scarlet Macaws are extremely large Macaw parrots, so they need large cages, a lot of toys for playing, things to hang off and things to chew. They are best suited to a house rather than a flat or apartment, and given their volume maybe a detached house at that! In the wild, they use their strong voices to call for their groups and the sound of the male Scarlet Macaw can be heard many miles away.
Preferred Food: Primarily fruits, nuts and seeds (their strong beaks can break large and hard seeds).
Relationship with People: Scarlet Macaws have strong personalities, most of them do not tolerate strangers, children, other pets and especially other birds. They are mostly a one person bird. Scarlet Macaws are best suited to experienced owners, who know how to raise and socialise a parrot with such a strong personality.
Common Health Problems: Vitamin deficiency, proventricular disease, feather picking, chewing flight and tail feathers by juveniles, oral and cloacal papillomas, chlamydiosis, bacterial, viral and fungal infections, beak malformation, pancreatitis, kidney disease, toxicity, heavy metal poisoning. All these health issues can be prevented by a good diet and regular vet visits.
Lifespan: Average 40 – 50 years, but Scarlet Macaws can live up to 75 years.
Training a Scarlet Macaw can be a challenge, especially to beginners. A hand-reared baby is typically used to being handled and will be easily trained. Older untamed birds may require more patience and dedication on the owner’s part but can also be properly tamed and trained with enough persistence and effort. Scarlet Macaws generally respond best to positive reinforcement methods that rely on rewards and consistency.
Prior to training, parrots need to get accustomed to and bond with their owners. It usually takes a couple of days for the bird to adjust to a new environment and become familiar and comfortable with the new setting and people. Early socialisation with all family members is key to preventing future destructive behaviours such as excessive screaming, biting, and feather plucking. A hand-fed baby Macaw is typically the best student, since being hand-reared from an early age by its owner helps establish a strong bond and builds trust. The bird will be more affectionate, trusting, and responsive to training.
Training sessions have to be carried out in a calm ambience without other people, animals or any other distractions. Several short sessions of 5 – 10 minutes throughout the day work best, as a single prolonged session once a day will make the parrot anxious and unresponsive. The person who is conducting the training has to keep their movements slow and smooth, and never show frustration or aggression towards the bird. It takes time and consistency for a Macaw to learn a new word or phrase. Loud clear repetition of one word or phrase at a time usually prompts the bird to make associations and start repeating it. Saying “Hello” when entering the room, repeating specific words or phrases for daily routines, and pointing at an object while saying its name eventually elicit mimicking on the parrot’s part. When the bird learns a new word, it should be rewarded with a treat, neck or head scratch, clicker sound, or any other activity that it finds pleasant.
Controlling Destructive Behaviour
When upset for various reasons, Scarlet Macaws can produce loud high-pitched squawks and squeaks, bite, or pluck their feathers. The most common issues that can cause such negative behaviours are:
- Lack of enough room in the cage – Macaws are wild birds and need enough space when kept as pets to feel comfortable. They need a cage which is spacious and high enough for them to climb inside, as they would do in the forest.
- Lack of enough time outside the cage – a Macaw needs to spend a lot of time outside its cage to walk around, climb, and socialise with people.
- Boredom – the intelligent and active Macaw needs to have its mind and body occupied in order to prevent destructive behaviours. It needs plenty of toys inside and outside its cage, rotated and renewed frequently enough to keep it interested. These birds also need a lot of interaction with their families and training to keep them physically and mentally stimulated.
- Fear – negative and aggressive behaviour can be the emotional responses to fear, fright, and stress, as well as lack of trust. The bird needs a stable environment and bonding time with its owners in order to feel at ease and respond well to handling and training.
- Anger – mood swings are typical for parrots when they approach sexual maturity. Their hormones will provoke them to act unpredictably – they might be affectionate and kind one moment, then become angry for no apparent reason.
Dealing with aggressive and destructive behaviour is the essence of training the parrot, showing it which of its actions are encouraged and which – deterred. Aggression or frustration are never the right approach to a bird displaying negative behaviour. Parrots enjoy a turmoil and all the attention they can get, be it for the wrong reasons. Thus, when their owners yell at them, yank their hands when bitten, or place them back in their cage as a punishment, it will only make the parrot feel like it’s got its way and lead to more flare-ups in the future. Aggression will only trigger more aggression and dramatic responses such as hitting, dropping, throwing, or splashing the bird with water will only lead to more screaming, biting, and feather plucking.
Owners can look for physical cues, such as feather fluffing or eyes pinning which may indicate that the bird is about to attack and bite. Although the natural reaction to a bite is to jerk the hand, pressing it slightly against the parrot will make it reconsider the bite. Their beaks are strong and it may hurt but this reaction will assert that the parrot won’t get what it expects through biting. When the parrot is screaming, it is best to simply ignore it. When it is silent and behaving accordingly, it can be praised and rewarded in order to realise what kind of behaviour will earn it attention.
The Scarlet Macaw is the third largest of the remaining Macaw species. Its geographical range includes the tropical forests of northern Mexico into the Amazon basin region of Peru, Bolivia and Brazil. The species was first described by Linnaeus in 1758 and has a long history of being a human companion dating back to the 12th century and the Incas. Scarlet Macaws are known for being seed predators and dispersers, travelling tens of kilometres a day in search of their diet constituents. The tropical forest canopy provides Macaws not only with food but water as well, which they obtain from bromeliads in the tree tops or from trunk crotches.
They inhabit tropical rainforests, humid forests, dry scrub forests, savannahs, and open woodlands. Scarlet Macaws have been seen in pairs, small family groups, and flocks of about 30 individuals. Slight discrepancies in size and colour among the geographic variations of this species have called for developments in its taxonomy, suggesting three possible subspecies: the Yellow-winged Macaw, the Honduran Scarlet Macaw, and the Bolivian Scarlet Macaw.
Although their range is extensive, the population of Scarlet Macaws in the wild is now reduced or devoid in many areas. The species is listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which includes the most endangered species. Scarlet Macaw numbers have declined throughout its range because of habitat loss, direct hunting, and capture for the wild-caught bird trade. In Guatemala, Scarlet Macaws face a double threat to their survival – deliberate forest fires and armed poachers. According to statistics, the northern Central American subspecies of Scarlet Macaw, Ara macao cyanoptera, has dwindled to a population of less than 1,000. While introduced into Puerto Rico, the species is extinct in El Salvador.
In 2013, scientists from the Texas A&M University’s college of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences sequenced the genome of the Scarlet Macaw. Their research provides insights into the genetic markers for cognitive and speech abilities and longevity, and is considered of immense significance to species conservation.
A survey of Scarlet Macaws’ feeding behaviours conducted over four years in the region of Central Pacific Costa Rica showed that these birds eat the fruits, seeds, flowers, leaves, and the bark of over 40 plant species. Some parts of the tree species which Macaws eat contain compounds toxic to humans. Fruit and seeds constituted 85% of the parrots’ dietary intake, flowers – 3%, leaves – 8%, bark – 2%, and other unidentified parts – 2 %. The observations showed that Macaws’ peak feeding hours were immediately after early morning movements, and just prior to return flights to roosting sites.
When kept as pets, Macaws need a well-balanced organic pellet-based diet, complemented with fruit: bananas, berries, cactus fruits, citrus, cranberries, figs, grapes, mango, melons, papaya, persimmons, pomegranates; and vegetables: beets, carrots, sweet potatoes, turnips, yams. The fruit and vegetables can be fresh, dried, or frozen, as well as raw or cooked, served in manageable chopped or sliced bits. Nuts and seeds can be offered as treats and rewards during training due to their high fat content.
Scarlet Macaws are large dynamic birds and require plenty of space to feel comfortable. They need large and tall cages with a variety of perches, climbing ladders, hanging and chewing toys where they will be able to move, climb, and forage, as they would do in the wild. A proper cage should measure at least 90cm x 90cm 180cm and be made of stainless steel or steel coated in a non-toxic and non-chipping paint. Scarlet Macaws’ beaks are extremely powerful and their cage has to be sturdy enough to withstand the strong beak. Other useful features of the cage that will make the parrot feel at ease are a wire mesh bottom with a removable tray below it to aid the daily cleaning, and wheels that will help move the cage at night – parrots need at least 10 hours a day in a quiet dark ambience to get a needed rest and sleep. Drawbridge or side swinging doors are safer than doors that open as a guillotine and a lock on the door is always a good investment.
The cage has to be positioned in a place free from draughts and flooded in natural light as parrots need plenty of sunlight to develop vitamin K which is vital to the good condition of the feathers and skin. The cage should be placed in a room frequented by family members so that the bird receives enough attention and social interaction. Isolation and solitude have an adverse effect on the Macaw’s health and lead to destructive behaviours.