Macaws are not easy to keep as pets

  • Sat Apr 7th, 2018 1:30am
  • Life

By Dr. Sonnya Crawford

Grays Harbor Veterinary Services

Macaws are beautiful birds, but they’re high-maintenance. They are recommended only for pet owners with experience caring for large parrots.

There are over 370 different parrot species in the world, with macaws being the largest. They are native to South America and weigh between 2 and 4 pounds. With a wingspan of up to 60 inches, they can reach lengths of nearly 3 and a half feet from beak to tip of tail.

There are 11 species of large macaws, with one species, the glaucous macaw, being extinct. The last sighting of a live glaucous macaw was in the 1870s.

The Spix’s macaw is critically endangered and likely extinct in the wild. There was one possible sighting in 2000 of a single male Spix’s in Brazil. The next sighting wasn’t until 2016.

Conservation efforts are being made to repopulate Spix’s macaws in the wild. Unfortunately, the DNA pool is critically small as the existing captive population is descended from just seven wild-caught founder birds, which are believed to have all come from just two wild nests that existed after 1982. The animated film “Rio” is based on the story of Spix’s macaw.

Mini macaws are smaller, with lengths of only 12 to 20 inches. They share several attributes with the larger macaws including originating in South America, having a long tail and having the distinct bald facial patch around their eye. Six species of mini-macaws exist today. Two of them — the red-bellied macaw and the blue-headed macaw — are rarely seen in captivity except at zoos, as they are seldom kept as pets.

While literature states that macaws have been recorded to live for 80 years or more, this is seldom true. In my career, I find it rare to see a parrot reach its 20s, and I’ve yet to see one older than its early 30s.

In my opinion, nutrition is to blame for their short lives. Nutritional deficiencies, obesity and fatty liver disease are all rampant in pet birds. A seed diet is not adequate for them; they also need fruits, nuts and other food.

Macaws also require a lot of social interaction. They become easily bored and destructive. They are loud, and they are messy.

According to a study by Best Friends Animal Society, it is not unusual for an elderly parrot to have seven to 11 owners over the course of its life, and there are many in rescue. If you are interested in adopting a macaw, the Exotic Bird Rescue of Oregon ( is a great place to start.

Sonnya Crawford, DVM, is a veterinarian at Grays Harbor Veterinary Services in Montesano. Her pets include two cats, numerous parrots, a giant bunny and saltwater fish. Her special interests are in avian medicine, veterinary dermatology and dentistry. Reach her at