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The Blue and Gold Macaw: A Colorful and Popular Personality

The Blue and Gold Macaw: A Colorful and Popular Personality

B&G Landing

One of the most popular of the large macaws, the Blue and Gold Macaw (ara ararauna) is a beautiful bird, with vibrant plumage in, yes, blue and gold, but also with green and black and yellowish-green. Adults are bright blue above, golden yellow below, with a green forehead and crown. The face is white, with fine lines of very dark green, almost black, feathers, like miniature zebra stripes. The throat is black, eyes are a pale, silvery yellow (babies’ eyes are black), and their tail feathers are very long. They also have the large and powerful black and gray bill that is typical of macaws.

The Blue and Gold Macaw inhabits the rainforests and swampland from eastern Panama to what is approximately the northern half of South America; they are found in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Panama, Peru, Paraguay, Suriname, and Venezuela, as well as the island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. Their coloring appears to match that of the Central and South American terrain in which they live, a landscape of bright green tree canopies and colorful flowers, where fruits and nuts are abundant. Unfortunately, because of the striking coloration, as well as the popularity, of these wonderful birds, they are frequently the victims of wildlife trappers. For this reason, it is important that you adopt your Blue and Gold from a reputable source, one that provides birds from a captive breeding program and not from the wild.

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Blue and Gold Macaws live in community groups of ten to thirty birds, many of which are monogamous pairs. Blue and Gold Macaws typically mate for life, sharing food with and grooming one another. In fact, paired birds may fly so close together their wings almost touch. Flocks of Blue and Gold Macaws sleep in the trees at night, and in the morning may fly long distances to feed on fruit, nuts, insects, and even small animals, such as lizards. They also forage for food in open countryside, and they are one of the bird species to visit riverbank walls of clay known as clay licks. According to scientists, these birds do not eat the clay for grit but as a source of sodium, and also to help them neutralize toxins that may be contained in the fruits and vegetation that they eat.

During the breeding season, pairs often make their nest at the top of a tall, dead tree, in a hole that may have been made by another bird, such as a woodpecker, or previous nesting pairs. The mother incubates the eggs while the father hunts for food to bring back to the nest to feed his mate. When the chicks hatch, the female feeds them at first, by regurgitating partially digested food for them. After the first week or so, the male joins in the feeding.

The large, hook-billed beak of the Blue and Gold is used to crack open nuts and fruits, such as palm berries. When the outer shell is opened, the bird uses its tongue, which contains a slender bone, to manipulate and dig out the contents. They also use their large beaks to help them climb trees.

As is often true for macaws, the male is slightly larger than the female, with a wingspan of approximately 41-44 inches. Of course, that translates to 3 ½ feet, which means this is a bird that needs a lot of space to live and play in. If you decide to add a Blue and Gold Macaw to your family, your companion’s cage will have to have adequate space for him to clamber around in and, especially, to stretch those wings out completely.


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Macaws in general also need at least few hours a day outside of their cages. An additional playpen is ideal, or you may want to provide a playtop cage, which has the play set already built in. But at the very least, a roomy cage is a necessity, and the larger the better for these magnificent macaws.

Also, your Blue and Gold Macaw will likely want to be in the thick of things in your family and not sitting alone in a corner. They’re inquisitive birds, and you’ll need to think of them as family, not decorations. An elegant, large enclosure with all the bells and whistles is useless to a macaw when no one comes to visit or let it out to play. Playtime is crucial to your bird’s overall health.


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Also worth remembering is that all birds, not just Blue and Gold Macaws, need adequate sleep, uninterrupted by noises and lights. Your bird’s cage should be located in a quiet area of your home, away from direct drafts, whether from a window or from an air conditioning vent.

Shower time is an especially welcome treat for many macaws, and lots of humans have even installed perches in their own shower for their birds. If you don’t want your Blue and Gold to be your shower buddy, though, at the very least spritz him with a spray bottle—water only, please, no soap or fragrances—every day. You’ll probably find that, once your bird realizes how much fun it is, he’ll welcome it with open wings—literally.

Water is important for most birds, and it plays a big part in the health of their skin, too. Remember where they come from: rain forests and swampland. That means they need humidity, and often. Living indoors, especially in heated or air-conditioned homes, dries out their skin and feathers, leading to itching and, worse, feather picking because of that discomfort. So remember, shower, and shower often. Your bird will thank you for it.

Another consideration for Blue and Gold Macaws is the noise factor, and it’s something you’ll need to consider before bringing one home. Some of their vocalizations can be very loud, especially when they’re either excited or distressed, so include that in your decision about where to place the cage, and which of your neighbors may be less likely to notice the occasional screeching. Not everyone will appreciate your bird’s squawks of joy when you come home from work.


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Blue and Gold Macaws are intelligent and social birds, able to learn and use words and phrases, and they especially seem to enjoy doing tricks. They also don’t hold back in expressing their emotions, fluffing their feathers, bobbing their heads, even raising their wings and seeming to bow. If you ever see your bird’s eyes “flash,” the pupil constricting and then growing larger again, you’ll know for sure your bird is excited or interested in something, and they may also blush at the same time, the same way their humans do.

You’ll likely find that, as your bird bonds with you, you’ll want to spend more time, quality time, with her. Remember, Blue and Gold Macaws mate for life, and this bond can be a strong one. Some birds may initially seem to bond more strongly with one person in the household, but, through proper socialization and nurturing guidance, the Blue and Gold Macaw will become a family member in the truest sense of the word, enjoying all the members of his human flock.

Also remember that they, like their humans, are creatures of habit. Try to avoid getting your bird used to something at a particular time, and then changing things. You may find yourself with a demanding bird on your hands, one with a very loud voice when he’s trying to remind you of what you haven’t done.

Macaws are also naturally inquisitive, and they love to chew, which means those humans who have opened their home to a Blue and Gold Macaw will need to “birdy-proof” it. No electrical cords within a beak’s reach, for instance, and watch out for that table leg. After all, to a macaw, a piece of wood that he can chew on looks just like the wood he can’t chew on—and if he can reach it, he’ll chew on it.


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In addition to that big beak, these birds have gripping toes that they use almost like fingers, helping them to hang onto branches and pick up and examine things, whether food, toys, or your favorite gold necklace. Many parrot humans have learned not to wear anything bright or dangly around their birds for this very reason: Oooohhh, shiny things! is not a concept limited to humans. The same goes for foods the bird might find tempting, but that we don’t want them to eat. Many foods that seem completely harmless to us can be very dangerous for our birds.

What should they avoid? Well, never feed your bird caffeine, in any form, including soda, and never feed them chocolate, or salty snacks like tortilla chips or, really, any sort of chips; that amount of sodium may not harm us, but it can make your bird very sick. And keep out of their reach fruit pits, especially those from plums, peaches, apricots and nectarines, because they contain small amounts of cyanide. Raw beans are also out, although cooked or sprouted beans are fine. And avoid entirely eggplant and potatoes, as well as avocado, nutmeg, rhubarb leaves, and especially tobacco. That abandoned butt in your ashtray may be a very attractive new toy for your macaw.

Other foods may not be completely toxic to your Blue and Gold Macaw, but they should be fed only in limited amounts: spinach, chard, and bok choy, because they can be high in oxalates, a chemical compound that binds to calcium; fruits containing a lot of sugar, as bad for birds as it is for humans, in excess; a diet high in cooked beans, grains, and pasta, which can cause obesity in our birds as easily as it can in us.

And, of course, there’s the infamous “all-seed” diet. If you're considering getting a Blue and Gold Macaw but also believe that feeding the bird means picking up a bag of "bird seed" every few days, it might be time to consider a hamster, instead. These birds need variety, and they need foods that are as close to their natural diet as we can possibly make them.

What’s good, then? Papaya, carrot, apple, banana chips or fresh banana, garden peas, green beans, fresh broccoli. You can also consider greens and herbs, such as dandelion leaf, alfalfa leaf, rose hips, rosemary, or basil. Many macaws love sprouts, but you need be very careful about purchasing them already grown. If the container doesn’t look fresh, don’t buy it. Consider sprouting your own; it’s very easy to do, and you’ll know they’re fresh. You’ve already taken on the challenge of a Blue and Gold Macaw, after all; after that, sprouting’s a snap.

For those times when fresh fruits and vegetables may not be available, as when you live in a colder climate, you can also try dehydrated foods. But beware: your Blue and Gold Macaw may just drop that dehydrated carrot or apple into its water dish, and you’ll come home to a soupy mess. If you decide to go with the (occasional) dehydrated products, remember that you’ll need to change your bird’s water more frequently, too.

Another important thing to remember when it comes to dehydrated products is that most of it you’ll find in pet shops is preserved, either with sulfur dioxide or other toxic chemicals. Be aware that many birds, and people, too, are allergic to sulfur dioxide and it can cause numerous symptoms, including hyperactivity and even feather picking (in the birds, presumably, and not the people). Your best bet is to purchase dried fruits or vegetables in a health food store, where you’ll be able to find them in their natural state. Some companies even make dried veggies with nothing else added, which are packaged in containers and widely available; they make a handy and nutritious snack for your birds (and you, too).

After you’ve taken care of the food decisions, it’s time to decide what your bird will play with. Start with the fact that, whatever you buy, your bird is going to attempt—usually successfully—to chew it apart. Wood is an excellent choice, and the possibilities are nearly endless. Most pet supply stores, including those online, offer wooden toys tailored to different kinds of birds, and, as you can guess, those for your Blue and Gold Macaw are sizeable—and so, unfortunately, is the cost. That’s why many bird humans make their own; toy-making supplies are increasingly popular online, as well as in some of the larger pet stores, and you can choose the shapes and sizes your bird most enjoys. Just remember that macaws are enthusiastic chewers, and you’ll need to keep him interested by switching toys, adding new ones, whatever it takes to alleviate that dreaded boredom that can lead to bad habits.

But being able to chew is very important, not only for the health of your bird but for its mental and emotional state. A bored bird is very often a naked bird. Feather picking is a fairly common occurrence in companion birds, but there are ways to avoid it, and keeping your bird busy, interested and amused with toys that he can rip apart is a good start. Remember, though, that not all wood is safe for your Blue and Gold; while it may be tempting to go outdoors with a hatchet and gather your own, it’s definitely not a good idea.

And remember, a bird that can break open a brazil nut can destroy a wooden toy quickly, but some woods, such as Manzanita and Java, will last longer because they are hardwoods. Another good choice to alleviate boredom is foraging toys. These are toys that hold goodies, such as nuts or fruits or even other toys; your Blue and Gold will spend time figuring out how to get into it, and they go a long way toward satisfying his taste for a snack as well as his natural curiosity.

Another good option may be acrylic toys. These are extremely strong plastic that often comes with a guarantee to be unbreakable. Well, that may be, but it’s also possible that your bird is just extremely strong. For this reason, it’s important to, as the packaging always says, monitor your bird when you give him a new toy. What you think may be indestructible may not have encountered the strength of your Blue and Gold Macaw.

Not all play needs to take place indoors, however. Provided your bird’s wings are clipped, he may love taking walks with you, or riding on your bike (but be careful about that long tail). Some Blue and Gold Macaws love to visit parks or art festivals; they may love to try new things, and especially to interact with people. However, be watchful in a crowd, or even in a small group of folks who don't know how to approach your bird, or even whether they should (probably not). Birds startle easily; that's not their fault, it's just a fact. And when a bird is startled, that's when she's most likely to nip, or even to bite hard.

How hard can a Blue and Gold Macaw bite? Well, the short answer is, pretty hard. But the longer answer is that serious bites aren’t common; you’re more likely to receive a hard pinch instead. A bird that has been properly socialized and trained will more than likely pinch your finger to send you a message. Of course, it’s up to you to decide what that message is. But when you truly care about your feathered companion, you’ll soon learn to “read” him.

Finally, it is also very important to consider, before you even seriously think about getting one of these magnificent birds, their lifespan. You may have heard rumors that Blue and Gold Macaws live to be 100 years old, but that’s what they are, simply rumors. The truth is closer to fifty years, and at fifty, your bird will be a senior citizen. But keep in mind that you’ll have your companion for a very long time, especially if you get a younger bird, and ask yourself whether you will be able to sustain your interest in and enthusiasm for your companion for many years. Some bird humans even write their birds into their wills, to be sure their companion is cared for properly should they, the humans, pass on first.

Doing that would be a wonderful gift, not only to your Blue and Gold Macaw but also to your family, a gift they can keep and enjoy as part of your legacy. The Blue and Gold Macaw is, after all, a magnificent creature. Those who are willing to take on such a responsibility and learn to love and respect this beautiful bird will be fortunate, indeed, to share their lives with such an awesome companion. 


Comments (2)


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Strict Standards: Non-static method iwp_cache::ConfirmDir() should not be called statically, assuming $this from incompatible context in /home/covenorg/public_html/api/class.template.php on line 379
Teegan
Said this on 6-27-2012 At 01:44 am

Thank you so much for this information. My family rescued a B&G Macaw from a pub!! Hadnt been let out of her cage for a year. She has taken a liking to me and this information has really helped! She goes mad for them bananas... this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship!


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Parrot Monk
Said this on 7-15-2012 At 09:01 pm

Thank you so much Teegan for your post here on our site. Yes, Blue & Gold Macaws are so awesome. They just need the right amount of love and proper care, and you are correct, you then have a great opportunity to establish a very beautiful relationship. Best of luck for you and your new feathered friend.

Parrot Monk


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