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Blue and Gold Macaw Natural History – the Wild Side of a Popular Pet

Blue and Gold MacawHello, Frank Indiviglio here. The huge, stunningly-colored Blue and Gold (or Blue and Yellow) Macaw, Ara ararauna, is one of the most recognizable of all birds…size, color, intelligence (and voice!) make it impossible to ignore.  While it has long been bred in captivity, the natural history of this spectacular parrot is less-well known.  Please read on to learn about its life in the wild and the threats to its continued existence.

Range

The Blue and Gold has the largest natural range of any macaw.  It is found from Eastern Panama east across most of Northern South America and south through Bolivia to Paraguay and Eastern Brazil.  Despite this, it is declining or extinct in some areas…Trinidad’s macaws disappeared in the 1960’s, but a new population has been re-introduced.

Habitat

MauritiaThis massive bird favors wooded areas near water, and is most frequently associated with palm swamps and forested river edges.  Flocks roost together, and may fly great distances out into savannas and other habitats to feed each day.  The dry season is spent within forests in some areas. 

Many populations are largely dependant upon the swamp-dwelling Aguaje Palm Tree (Mauritia flexuosa) for food and nesting sites.  This relationship is cause for severe population declines in some regions…please see “Conservation”, below, for details.

Social Behavior and Breeding

Blue and Gold Macaws form strong pair bonds and often mate for life.  Even within large flocks, pairs stay close together, with their wings nearly touching while in flight (I was able to observe this among wild Scarlet Macaws – pairs really are very obvious). 

Breeding commences during the wet season – December to March – when food is most abundant.  Pairs utilize tree hollows, and often nest near other flock members.  They are extremely protective of their chicks…to the point that even long-term pets can become dangerously aggressive towards their owners.

Two or three eggs are produced at 2 day intervals, and hatch within 21-30 days.  The female incubates, but the male will enter the nest if a threat appears.  The young take a full 3 months to fledge, after which they are cared for by both parents for quite some time.

Conservation

Blue and Gold Macaws are threatened by habitat loss and, in some areas, hunting and collection for the pet trade.  They are listed on Appendix II of CITES, but due to the large range, the IUCN classifies this species as of Least Concern. 

However, studies have shown that the Blue and Gold Macaw has an extremely low breeding output, and that pairs do not breed each year. It is estimated that a breeding group of 100 adults produces, at most, 15-25 chicks annually.  How many of these survive to become breeders themselves is unknown, but certainly far less than 100%.

As mentioned, a dependence on Aguaje Palm swamps (please see photo) places many populations at risk.  The fruit of this tree is heavily utilized by people wherever it occurs.  In the 1980’s, for example, residents of Iquitos, Peru consumed over 15 tons per day during some seasons!  Unfortunately, the entire tree is usually cut down in order to harvest the fruit.  Furthermore, dead palms, the only source of nesting cavities in many habitats, stand for only 4-7 years before falling to the ground.  Nest site availability is therefore a serious concern.

Recent conservation efforts in Peru have focused on nest site creation (please see article below).  The tops of selected Aguaje Palms were cut, and tree hollows generally formed and were occupied by macaws within 5-17 months.  Each tree was calculated to have produced .7 chicks before falling.  A carefully planned program of palm cutting, taking into account the needs of local people, macaws and other wildlife, and the surrounding swamp habitat, is being considered as a long-tern conservation technique.

Macaws as Pets

Blue and Gold MacawMacaws are called “Flying Primates” by some, and the Blue and Gold is often considered to be the most curious, intelligent and affectionate of all.  Its ability to mimic speech is also very impressive.

However, macaw ownership should never be entered into lightly.  Sadly, the demands they place upon owners are often not considered by the inexperienced.  Despite their great qualities (and high price tag!), abandoned macaws of all kinds fill the holding cages of shelters and parrot rescue operations.  Please write in for further details if you are considering a pet macaw.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.  Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable.  I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

Please also post your questions and comments here…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. 

Thanks, until next time,

Frank Indiviglio

 

Further Reading

Conservation of the Blue and Gold Macaw in Peru

Observing Scarlet Macaws in Venezuela

Video: Rooftop Macaw Rescue

Blue and Gold macaw image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Luc Viatour
Blue and Gold macaw image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Luc Viatour

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About 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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