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The Scarlet Macaw – The Wild Side of a Popular Pet

Macaw in FlightThe Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao) is surely one of the most recognizable birds on the planet.  Images of this spectacular parrot adorn the brochures and T-shirts of travel agencies, zoos and aviaries worldwide.  Less well-known, however, is its natural habits and precarious existence in the wild.


At 33.5 inches in length, and with a wingspan to match, this deep red (or scarlet!), yellow-shouldered bird is one of the world’s largest parrots.

Its huge range extends from Oaxaca in southern Mexico through Central America to Columbia, Peru, Bolivia and Brazil, and east to French Guiana.  Within this area, however, it is rare or absent from many locales, and may be extinct in El Salvador.  Feral populations thrive in Puerto Rico and Florida.
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Grit, Calcium, Salt and Water – Wild Bird Feeding “Extras” – Part 1

While any food provided to wild birds is beneficial, there are a few items that are very important to their health, especially in the winter, but which are often over-looked by well-meaning avian enthusiasts.


Pigeons, Doves and many other birds must swallow small stones, sand and similar materials (“grit”) in order to break down seed coats and other foods before digestion can take place.  Grit is often in short supply during the winter, being either covered with snow or frozen to the ground (in NYC, I’ve observed English sparrows on buildings, pecking at gravel within brick mortar).

You can help winter birds along by providing pet bird gravel, sand and oyster shell (available at garden supply shops) in snow-free locations.  It is best to keep grit separated from food, as it will be used slowly and may become contaminated with feces if it lies out too long.


Calcium is especially important as winter turns to spring, since female birds utilize this mineral to produce egg shells.  However, insects, the main source of calcium for many species, are often scarce at this time of the year.  Our Wild Bird Mealworms will be most appreciated by nearly every bird that visits your feeder.  You can also supply calcium by mixing oyster shell and ground-up eggshells into your wild bird food.

Food and Shelter

Of course, food and shelter are important concerns year-round.  Please be sure to check out our extensive line of bird and wildlife foods, houses and feeders.

Next time we’ll cover a few additional winter-feeding essentials.


Further Reading

Winter is a great time to try your luck at hand-feeding wild birds.  Please see Hand Taming Wild Birds for more details.

Woodpeckers, chickadees and other acrobatic birds will put on quite a show if given the chance – please check out Feeding Woodpeckers and Other Avian Athletes for details.


Keeping Pigeons and Doves – Three Gorgeous Tropical Species

Those whose “pigeon experience” is limited to feral rock doves are usually surprised to learn that these ubiquitous city-dwellers are members of a huge (300 + species) family that includes some of the world’s most unusual and sought-after aviary birds.  The Luzon Bleeding Heart Dove (Gallicolumba luzonica), Victoria Crowned Pigeon (Goura victoria) and Nicobar Pigeon (Caloenas nicobarica) are prime examples.  Let’s see why….

General Considerations

Victoria Crowned PigeonThe pigeons described below consume a fruit-based diet quite unlike that given to the more commonly-kept ring doves.  The diet I provided those under my care contained a wide variety of fruits (varied seasonally), chopped greens, boiled rice, softbill diet, pigeon seed mix and insects.

In general, exotic pigeons need large aviaries, and are best housed outdoors in warm climates.  However, some of the smaller fruit doves (which I will cover in the future) can be kept indoors.

Victoria Crowned Pigeon, Goura victoria

My reaction upon first seeing this largest of the world’s pigeons was typical – pure awe!  Resembling more a colorful turkey than a pigeon, these magnificent birds stand over 24 inches high, and reach nearly 3 feet in length.  An improbable crest of long, lacey blue feathers crowns the head, giving them a most definite “royal” appearance.

Crowned Pigeons (there are 2 other species) make fairly hardy aviary birds.  They are quite steady and not at all shy (a fact that has contributed to their demise in the wild), and the pair I kept bred regularly.  I was even able to give them outdoor access on mild winter days.

Victoria Crowned Pigeons are found only in northern New Guinea and on some small offshore islands.  They are classified as “Vulnerable” by the IUCN and are listed on Appendix II of CITES but, fortunately, are well-established in private aviculture and zoos.

Luzon Bleeding Heart Dove, Gallicolumba luzonica

Nicobar PigeonA confirmed ground dweller, this beautiful dove’s name is very fitting – the bright red blotch on its chest actually fades out along the edges, looking very much like a blood stain.  Especially when seen in a densely-planted aviary, the bird gives the appearance of having been gravely injured…more than one zoo visitor has excitedly reported the same to me over the years.

Bleeding Heart Doves are more readily available, and are easier to keep, that the other birds covered here.  They are shy but not nervous in temperament, and make fine pets if some time is put into taming them.

Their natural range is limited to southern Luzon and nearby islands in the Philippines.

Nicobar Pigeon, Caloenas nicobarica

Nicobar PigeonThe color of this bird’s plumage varies dramatically with changing light exposure – indeed, two people rarely provide the same description.  Various shades of green, blue, copper and rust, all somewhat “metallic”, come and go as the bird moves about, and the long feathers trailing from its head grant a most unusual profile.  This species, the only member of its genus, is not common in private collections, but well-worth searching for.

Nicobar Pigeons have an unusual distribution.  They range from Southeast Asia and southern India through Malaysia, but within that area usually occupy only small islands (including, of course, Indonesia’s Nicobar chain!).   Nowhere common, their habits have not been well-studied.

Further Reading

You can read more about the care of Victoria Crowned Pigeons here.

For a look at some smaller, more common doves, please see my article Ring Doves and the others referenced there.


Nicobar Pigeon image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Tom Friedel

The Magnificent Cockatoos – Pros and Cons for Potential New Owners – Part 2

Cockatoo in SydneyStriking in appearance, playful and affectionate when socialized, hardy and possessed of complex, interesting personalities, Cockatoos have much to recommend them as pets (please see Part I of this article for more information).  Today, however, I feel it is important that we also consider some of the difficulties that may face the Cockatoo owner (or person owned by a Cockatoo!).

Need for Contact

A high degree of sociability renders Cockatoos as wonderful companions but in need of a great deal of human contact.  Even more so than many other parrots, Cockatoos left alone for long periods nearly always begin to scream or to pluck their feathers.

A typical working schedule does not allow for enough interaction time…two birds should always be kept in such situations (on the positive side, Cockatoos often get along well with other parrots, including lovebirds and other small species).

Housing Considerations

Cockatoos are extremely active and need a very large cage  or outdoor aviary.

The degeneration of powder-down feathers forms a fine, powdery “dust” that Cockatoos use in grooming and waterproofing their flight feathers.  This material spreads like windblown ash, and invariably winds up on furniture, clothes and floors.  Air filters and spraying the bird with water daily (Cockatoos like this!) will help, but powder down will remain a fact of life for the Cockatoo owner.

Potentially Troublesome Characteristics

Palm CockatooEven by parrot standards, most Cockatoos have very loud voices.

Cockatoos are inveterate wood chewers, and can demolish furniture and perches that would stand up to the largest macaw (or, it seems, axe!).  Interestingly (or annoyingly!) they are quite systematic in their “projects”…once a potential target has caught its eye, your Cockatoo, no matter how well trained, will usually find a way to get at it.


While most species can learn to repeat a few words, Cockatoos are not the most gifted mimics (they do excel in learning tricks, however).

Further Reading

You can read about a unique “digging” cockatoo, the Long Billed Corella.

An interesting article on powder down and its relation to health and illness in cockatoos is posted here.

For some idea of the impressive carrying power of a cockatoo’s voice, check out this video.



Cockatoo in Sydney image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Snowmanradio
Palm Cockatoo image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Doug Jansen

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