Here is a little disclaimer. Owning a bird, especially a macaw or other parrot, is a huge pain in the ass. These birds live for decades, are as smart as 3-5 year old children, and are messy, nippy, noisy, demanding little suckers. They are also going to go extinct in the wild. One of the few things the republicans did right in this country was to make it difficult or illegal to buy these guys if they were wild caught. (In 1992 George Bush Senior forced the country to stop importing appendix 1 animals from the CITES list, www.cites.org) Why is that? Well, it is because they are captured, barbarically, from their homelands and shipped to foreign countries to become pets. The death rate for wild caught birds is ~75 percent. Think about that, countries who still import wild caught birds have to bring in 4 birds to place one in a home. We had the decency, in 1992, to outlaw this barbaric practice. Our Asian, Middle Eastern, and European friends did not do this. (Update, since the bird flu scare Europe has also stopped importing wild caught birds.) The Middle Easterners don't even quarantine new arrivals which results in even higher death rates. If you are a bird owner from one of these countries you should write your politicians and tell them to stop this practice.
Locals use tactics such as nest removal, tree cutting, and shooting birds (hoping some will survive) to continue capturing these guys. In truth, they will always be wild, even the domestically born children of wild caught birds are always wild. Unless you are willing to spend the next 50 years of your life dealing with the equivalent of a two year old, stay away. Have you considered how difficult it will be to get away on vacations? Birds are a whole lot harder to find qualified sitters for than regular pets. It is unbelievably rewarding to share your life with a parrot but requires a great deal of patience. Too many of these intelligent little creatures end up dead, abused, or in rescues. If you think you want one then do your research, skip pet stores, read allot, visit aviaries, and think again. They are wonderful companions but are not for everyone. Please, don't contribute to mistreating an endangered species on the basis of what you read here. Jen and I spend our lives working with these guys. If you are not willing to do the same then don't bother adding to these fantastic creatures suffering, THEY ARE NOT CATS OR DOGS. They will always be a challenge. If you feel you have the time, heart, and patience, then by all means help. They will be extinct, in our lifetimes, in the wild. They will exist as a viable species because of aviaries and private owners. Remember, you are about as closely related, genetically, to apes, as one species of macaw is to another. If your heart says yes but your patience and commitment say no then consider donating toThe Gabriel Foundation or The Rocky Mountain Raptor Association
OK So you think you want a parrot Questions to ask yourself
How about things that can AND WILL kill a parrot, are you ready to change your life?
(© Birds of A Feather Avicultural Society March 1998)
So, you've decided that the answer to all of this is that you still want a bird. Get out there and meet them. Go to aviaries, go to homes with birds, interact with them. I'd also suggest avoiding forums entirely. Over the years I've found that every single one of them censors discussions about the truly important topics. Even worse, I've found that there are a good number of people on these forums who present themselves as experts and post objectively incorrect information.
I recently came across a woman
spewing outright nonsense and discovered she was affiliated with PETA and
the Animal Liberation Front (ALF). Anyone associated with those groups
is malicious when it comes to pet owners.
ALF is actually classified as
a terrorist group, PETA should be. Anyone supporting these groups should be outed, repudiated,
then ignored. Forums are a haven for these types of people and,
in the long run, serve a negative role in the community of pet birds.
Find a good veterinarian and aviary and leave the self proclaimed
experts (no such thing) to their own little worlds. Forums, when they are devoted to pet birds, are homes to some good people but are generically fronts for dangerous, misguided to downright malicious people.
Don't decide on a bird based on its appearance, get to some aviaries, visit the birds, let their personalities pick you. Take your time to decide which you want and never ever buy an unweaned bird. Anyone who tries to sell unweaned birds is doing a bad thing. It takes allot of practice and commitment to hand feed a bird and besides the possibility of asphyxiating them you can traumatize them emotionally if you wean them improperly. My last general bit of advice is to stay away from pet stores, they are in it for the money and the birds can have all sorts of physical problems. Real aviaries, although more expensive, generally don't see much of a profit and raise birds out of love. Feel free to email me for any advice. remember, you are taking on a lifetime commitment with a creature that may well behave like a 2 year old toddler for its entire life.
So lets say you already have your bird. There are a few things to remember. They will change as they age, they will go through mood swings, they will be noisy, messy, and needy. The most important thing to remember is to be patient. Also, be flexible, no one way is perfect. Make sure you pick up a few books on behaviour but take everything with a grain of salt, each bird is a different critter. Alsopick up books on health care. I like The Large Macaws by Joanne Abramson, The Companion Parrot Handbook by Sally Blanchard, and The Complete Pet Bird Owner's Handbook by Gary Gallerstein. Make sure to keep your bird engaged with interaction and toys. Teaching them how to take a shower with you is also fun.
Finally, DO NOT CLIP YOUR BIRD!. It is never for the creature's benefit, it's only for your own convenience and to tame your own fears. You are depriving the bird of what defines it as a distinct creature when you do so and are effectively hobbling a creature. It is absolutely no different than chaining your child to the bedpost. I hear a lot of arguments about how it's for the safety of the bird or how owning them is already unnatural and so on but come on. Justifying it because of safety is a cop out, take the neccesary precautions or don't buy a bird, if something terrible happens, well, that's life. We don't spend all our days and nights inside because we might die in a car crash, get hit by lightning,etc. If you can't make your home safe for a flighted bird then don't get one. If you must get one then get a rescue bird for whom a second chance (even clipped) is better than it's present situation. As far as the 'it's already unnatural argument'? Since when does something not being perfect become a good argument for making it even worse? A bird is a creature defined by it's ability to fly, if you want one then cherish that simple concept and bring it into your home as such or go get a land bound creature. Last of all, please DO NOT email me for advice on purchasing a new bird if you plan on clipping. My advice is don't get one or go get a rescue bird. Buying and crippling a new pet is disgusting to me. There is nothing like allowing one of these things it's natural right to fly and having it CHOOSE to come over to you (as opposed to having to because it can only move when you pick it up).
One last little rant. Please don't buy hybrids. I spent a good bit of time thinking about the topic and have come to the conclusion that it is a bad idea. These birds may be sweet and beautiful but they dilute the gene pool of pure parrots. Think about it, we have a limited breeding stock and the birds in the wild are being massacred. If they become extinct and we dilute the gene pool of captive born birds to the point where real problems crop up in breeding them then we have effectively helped in causing the extinction of a species. Since there is no new flux of wild birds into this country we must sustain the genetic purity of those we have here. This might sound a little harsh but when taken in the context of a slow, decades long process it is the reality. I'm not against giving good homes to existing hybrids and treating them with all the love and affection we can but I just think further breeding of them is wrong.
I'm doing this to demonstrate the actual genetic diversity in parrots. I walk my guy regularly on a long harness I have modified to allow Merlin to fly up to 20 feet from me, by attaching bungie cord so he doesn't snap when he reaches the end. On these walks I am always asked 'Is that a parrot?' I used to say that was like asking is that a dog but upon further study realized that wasn't correct. Dogs all belong to the same species. Macaws aren't even the same Genus as other birds like Amazons or African Greys. Cockatoos belong to a whole other family.
Class: Aves (birds)
Order: Psittaciformes (generically hook bills and what people think of as parrots)
Family: Loriidae (Lories) & Cacatuidae (Cockatoos) & Psittacidae (it is this FAMILY to which my Macaw belongs)
Genus: Ara (Macaws)
Species: Rubrogenys (Red Front), Araruana (Blue and Gold), Macao(Scarlet), Chloroptera(Greenwing), etc
If you now stop to think all mammals form a class (whales, felines, humans, mice, etc) and all primates form an order and humans and Lemurs belong to separate families within that order you can get an idea to the genetic diversity displayed by what are commonly referred to as 'Parrots'.
Avalon Aviary (buy your birds, toys, and food here)
A video of My favorite Aviary Avalon
Avalon's Red Front Page
Waynes Bottlebrush - My birds love this stuff, it makes for a great play stand and feeding area
The Atom - The all time best bird perch (in my opinion)
Sally Blanchard's Site - Great Information For ANY Parrot owner
Macaw Info - Just like it sounds
A great comparison of Macaws
A Tale of Two Cockatoos - A very touching story, a must read
Parrots International - A worthy cause to donate to, works for conservation in the wild
The Gabriel Foundation - A good, reputable rescue
The World Parrot Trust - Works for worldwide conservation
I have recently become aware that there exists an organization that collects parrot feathers and donates them to Native Americans. These people use them in rituals and will pluck illegally smuggled birds if they need to so sending in your old bird feathers actually helps promote species conservation throughout South America. Please consider donating your birds feather's to the organization I have linked to below, it is a very worthy cause. Send your feather's to Wingwise
Proventricular Dilatation Disease (PDD) is a wasting type disease that is fatal in captive and free-ranging birds; especially young birds like African Greys; Macaws and Cockatoos.The symptoms and side effects that have been associated with PDD are varied, its routes are unknown, and its outcome is fatal. Donate to help cure PDD