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Military Macaws

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Common Name: Military Macaw.

Scientific Name: Ara militaris.

Origin: Central and northern South America.

Size: Military Macaws can reach up to 30 inches measured from the beak to the tip of the tail feathers.

Average Lifespan: When well cared for, a Military Macaw can live up to 50+ years.

In the wild: Military Macaws usually live in small flocks, most likely found in pairs or in small flocks of up to twenty birds. They are social birds and enjoy being with their flock and a mate as well and are rarely alone. Unlike most Macaws, Military Macaws generally avoid tropical rainforests. They prefer dry forests and open woodlands. 

Military Macaws as Pets: While they aren't the most colorful birds, they are beautiful and can make great pets for the right owner. Military Macaws require a lot of attention and can be pretty pricey to own one if you consider veterinary bills, quality food, cages, and toys it all adds up. These birds are VERY loud and not for every household. They are usually loud when the sun rises and when the sun sets. Also when they notice something unusual or when their water or food bowl is empty, or when they know you’re in the next room and it wants attention (my bird will scream whenever he sees me talking on the phone.). This is not a pet you can just purchase and ignore; they need a lot of interaction and mental stimulation. A bored Macaw is not a friendly bird; you can expect frustration, aggressiveness, destructed property. Military Macaws that have been properly socialized can become quite tame and friendly. These birds are intelligent, fair talkers, and excellent at learning tricks.

Housing: Macaws need a roomy cage, at least 2 ½ by 3 feet. They need a large perch, branches from a fruit tree work well because they can chew on them. They will need a lot of playing and chewing toys. Macaws should be kept in a room where they will not bother the neighbors; some birds even have their own room. When kept indoors make sure they get plenty of sunlight. Keeping them indoors permanently is not recommended. Macaws may also be kept outdoors in an aviary. 

Macaws need to spend 2-4 hours outside their cage everyday so a play pen on top of a cage is great for out of cage time. A sturdy perch away from the cage where the bird can interact is also recommended. Macaws can spend most of their time on a freestanding perch or playpen, in fact a lot of owners only keep the bird in the cage at night.

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Large enough cage with play pen on top.

Diet: These birds need a high variety diet to make sure they receive proper nutrition. This can include store bought prepackaged seed or pellet mixes, walnuts, Brazil nuts, pecans, pine nuts, apple, banana, orange, corn, bread, cooked pasta (I’ve never met an animal that did not like pasta), leafy greens, and variety of vegetables, they even like chicken. They can be offered the same foods that you eat; some owners share food from their plate with their macaws. However before feeding from your plate make sure the food is not toxic to your bird. Always make sure your bird has fresh food and water. Macaws tend to dip their food in water to soften it so cleaning it daily is necessary to prevent bacteria build up. Discard fresh food that has not been eaten in at least 24 hours.

Toxic food for birds include: avocado, chocolate, apple seeds, mushrooms, tomato leaves, dried beans, and caffeine.

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Maintenance – The daily cleaning of the cage should include cleaning the water and food dishes and cage litter/liner. Weekly maintenance should include washing of the toys and perches; this could also be a good time to change out the toys. Monthly cleaning should include hosing down the entire cage and disinfecting it. Yearly maintenance would be to replace old dishes, perches, and toys.

Birds need to be bathed often. Most macaws love to take showers in human showers which make it easier for the owner instead of using a spray bottle. Macaws should be bathed frequently at least once a week to prevent illness. Birds love to bathe in the wild so it’s not normal if your bird refuses to bathe.

Bird cage cleaning
Credit: By: Julia Letheld Hahn

Activities - For the physical and mental well-being of a Macaw, they must have plenty of interaction, play and exercise. Parrots are designed to fly a few hundred miles per day; therefore, it is crucial for macaws to get their exercise. Parrot owners need to make sure that their birds spend 2-4 hours outside of their cage which will allow the birds to stretch their wings. The bird needs interaction from their owners which includes cuddling and petting, also learning and performing tricks.

Macaws are known to be avid chewers, they will chew on pretty much anything they get a hold of. When they are spending time outside of their cage make sure to keep an eye on them because they will destroy your furniture and anything else lying around. Macaws need to exercise their beaks so be sure to provide them with lots of toys and activities for gnawing and chewing. Rotate the toys on a regular basis so they don’t get bored with them, toys also distress the birds so they don’t pick up bad behaviors like biting, feather picking, and screeching. Bird toys can be pretty expensive, you can try making your own or you can even purchase dog toys. I will usually go to the dollar tree and buy dog toys and some sporting equipment and make something of my own. This way it’s cheaper and I find them to last longer because my macaw will shred any toy to pieces in just a few minutes so purchasing a $25 dollar toy may not be worth it. But because macaws use their beaks for exploring, you can teach them with proper training to use their beaks softly. Because they are prone to overgrown beaks they need plenty of wood and other hard toys to exercise their beaks. Some bird-safe wood would include: pine, willow, fir, elder, and heat sterilized pine cones.

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Behavior – Military macaws can be aggressive at times but they are affectionate birds. They can become lovable and friendly when properly socialized and trained. Those that are interested in owning a Military Macaw must have plenty of free time to interact with their bird. These macaws are typically prefer one person or one gender but if you socialize it plenty it can enjoy more people. They can also be shy, cranky, and stubborn. They have a dramatic way of expressing themselves.

They can be loud usually due to them noticing something out of the ordinary kind of like a watch dog, or they want attention. They are also known to make a loud squawking noise when the sun is setting.

Handling/Training – Military Macaws are very intelligent birds, which makes them easy to tame and train and love attention. You should generally give your pet some time to get accustomed to a new environment and the owner before you start training. They are great at learning new tricks and small tasks. They can mimic, talk, and learn a few words but not as great as other parrots like the Amazon.

Sexing - Sexual Differences – There are no visible differences in distinguishing a male from a female. To get the bird sexed you will need to do DNA testing which costs approximately $30 at a local bird shop.

Breeding/Reproduction - The Military Macaw is commonly bred in captivity. The usual clutch consists of about two or three eggs which incubate for about 26 days. The babies will stay in the nest for about 3 months. During breeding season the parents will need foods which are high in fat such as sunflower seeds. While they are rearing their babies feed them lots of protein rich foods, carrots and fruit.

Potential health Problems - A pet Macaw when well cared for will seldom become ill. But there are things in the environment that may cause them to become ill. Feather plucking, biting, and screeching can be a sign of an illness. Though illness can be difficult to determine some visible signs may include: if the bird sits at the bottom of the cage, ruffled plumage, drooping wings, sagging body, change in feces (not diet related), loss of appetite, partially closed or watery eyes, rasping, difficulty breathing, and extreme mood swings. Feather picking can be a result of boredom, sexual frustration, lack of bathing, and poor diet.

If you notice any signs of bird illness, your bird should be taken to an avian veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment.

Flying macaw
Credit: Ara militaris in flight, Birds at Whipsnade Zoo, Edited versions of Flickr originals


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  1. "Military Macaw birds." http://www.birdchannel.com. 12/08/2014 <Web >
  2. "Military Macaws." http://beautyofbirds.com. 13/08/2014 <Web >

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