Home | Bird Species Profiles | The Macaws: An Overview of a Spectacular Group of Parrots, Part I

The Macaws: An Overview of a Spectacular Group of Parrots, Part I


Macaws in a store or the wild draw the eye instantly – loud, gorgeous, active and intelligent, they are the ultimate parrot pets in the eyes of many hobbyists.  Indeed, when prices were lower, a macaw was often the first parrot purchased by those new to the hobby.

Some Preliminary Considerations

However, these strong-willed birds are not for everyone, and certainly not for those without some parrot-keeping experience.  More so than their relatives, macaws are prone to “bullying” their owners.   They learn very quickly, and once they believe dominance has been attained, can be quite a handful.  With massive beaks capable of exerting up to 300 pounds per square inch of pressure, they are not to be taken lightly.  Most species are large and loud, and require a great deal of room.  All must be kept busy…a bored macaw soon becomes a destructive and impossible pet.

That being said, a hand-raised macaw in the right situation is an unparalleled pet – affectionate, intelligent and talkative in ways that few birds can match.

Range and General Characteristics

Macaws comprise a group of 6 genera and 17 species, classified with all other parrots in the family Psittacidae.  Five species are recently extinct and a sixth, the glaucous macaw (Anodorhynchus glaucus), may be so.  The little blue or Spix’s macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii) no longer occurs in the wild but holds on in captivity.  Ranging throughout Central and South America and Mexico, populations of all are considered to be at risk.

The giant of the group, the hyacinth macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus) is also the world’s largest parrot.  Awe-inspiring to behold, hyacinths reach 40 inches in length, and sport wingspans of nearly 5 feet.  At a “mere” 12 inches, the noble or red-shouldered macaw (Ara nobilis) is the smallest species.

Choosing a Species

A number of macaw species have been bred in captivity and, despite superficial similarities, they can differ greatly as to their suitability as pets.  I’ll write detailed articles about individual species in the future, but would now like to present a general overview.  When observing macaws, please bear in mind that hybrids are quite common in the pet trade, and they may differ markedly from either parent species.

The Noble or Red-Shouldered Macaw, Ara nobilis

Noble MacawThis smallest of the macaws makes up in personality what it lacks in size.  Indeed, it is quite difficult to distinguish its bold, confident attitude from that of the much larger species.  Although a small macaw, the noble is still a substantial parrot, and, given its active and inquisitive nature, requires a huge cage and plenty of exercise.  It is, however, a bit less prone to aggression than other macaws, and well-habituated individuals make delightful, if often noisy, companions.

A Well-Known Subspecies

A subspecies, known as Hahn’s macaw (A. n. cumanensis) is one of the most widely-bred of the group, and is considered to be a fairly easy bird to train.  This and its small size make the Hahn’s an ideal choice for the first-time macaw owner.  Both noble and Hahn’s macaws have attained ages in excess of 50 years in captivity, and could potentially live a good deal longer.

Noble Macaws in the Wild

Noble macaws range from Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana through eastern Venezuela to southern Brazil.  They frequent lightly-forested areas, but flee to deep cover when threatened.  Forest-fringed savannas, palm groves, wooded farms and plantation edges are typical haunts.  Noble macaws are most frequently encountered in groups of up to 10 birds, with pairs being evident by their interactions.

Despite their brilliant coloration, these green and red birds are surprisingly difficult to pick out among tree branches.  This, combined with their unusual quietness while feeding, affords protection from both human and natural enemies.

During my time in Venezuela, I twice missed out on seeing flocks noticed by sharper-eyed colleagues.  Once they take to the wing, however, noble macaws are very loud and very fast…so I wound up barely glimpsing them, but with a good earful!


A detailed article on breeding noble and other small macaws in captivity, presented at the Canadian Parrot Symposium, is posted at:


Please also see my article Brief Notes on Wild Scarlet Macaws (Ara macao) in Venezuela.

Image referenced from Wikipedia and first posted by Snowmanradio.


  1. avatar
    Anita in Georgia

    My 8 year old green wing macaw is suffering with a liver disorder, believed to have started by breeder who over-hand-fed. He is being treated with milk thistle and lactulose, and has not as yet received a diagnosis. Any one out there dealing with similar problem? What can you pass on to help me.

  2. avatar

    Hello, Frank Indiviglio here. Thanks for your interest in our blog.

    I’m sorry to hear that your macaw is ill.

    Unfortunately liver disorders, even if known to arise from overfeeding, can manifest themselves in a variety of ways, and there is always the possibility of a coincidence, i.e. that the condition is unrelated to an earlier problem. A diagnosis of the specific problem or disease is essential before effective treatment can be prescribed. Generalized treatment plans often cause more harm than good by delaying accurate diagnosis and appropriate medication.

    The Association of Avian Veterinarians provides a state by state list of doctors specializing in bird care.

    Please let me know if you need anything further. Good luck with your macaw… please keep me posted if you have the opportunity, I’m interested to learn the nature of the ailment.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  3. avatar

    Nice and honest introduction to the Macaw. If they are kept as pets make sure to offer them plenty of bird toys. That will keep them entertained when the owner is unable to play with them.

  4. avatar

    Hello David, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog and for taking the time to post your kind comment.

    I look forward to hearing from you in the future.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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