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Blue & gold Macaw
Scientific name: Ara ararauna

This South American exotic parrot measures between 75 - 90 cms in length with a wingspan of approximately 100 cms or more and weighs between 800 - 1200 grams approximately. The expected lifespan of these birds in captivity is upwards of 40 years so consideration must be given to their care and the inheritance of these birds should they outlive their owner!

The Blue & Gold Macaw is probably the most well known Macaw around. Attributing factors are the numbers that have been bred over the years world wide and the fact that zoos since the 1860s have usually kept this species and used to display them on stands near their entrances. These days the birds are better known by people that have had photos taken with them in tourist locations around the world. Some of the earliest recorded data of live parrots dates back to the helmsman of Alexander the Great 356-323 B.C. and people have been admiring, studying and keeping parrots ever since.
In the early days records show royalty kept these birds in very fancy cages made of ivory, silver and even gold dipped. Some eminent scientists such as Johannes Baptist von Spix (1781-1826) memorized for Spix Macaws, William Swainson (1789-155) and Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778) to mention just a few, with their varied interests within ornithology, all contributed greatly to the beginnings of parrot research.

During the middle ages many exotic birds were trapped or shot to keep the skins for museums or donated to the king or other members of royalty often to win favour and support for the next seaworthy journey to make further new discoveries.
These were all rare bird species as the ships were coming from India, South America, Indonesia and later Australia to European countries like Spain, Holland and England. In those days birds were collected and traded. Later when the trade in birds was controlled and then eventually stopped in 1934 by Germany (the first country to do so) the birds were smuggled, creating a lucrative activity for the smugglers. These days there is some control over this by border securities. A prolificacy of smuggling and also the fact that a lot of original forests have been cleared for harvesting of timber and farming,
means many species have now become endangered and even the Blue & Gold Macaw is losing its range of rainforest on a daily basis. For this reason this bird is on the *CITES 11 (2) listing and hopefully with enough conservation will never go to CITES 1 listing or become endangered in the wild. *CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) appendices 1 and 11 are as follows: CITES Appendix I contains species threatened with extinction, CITES Appendix II contains species that, although not threatened with extinction now, might become so unless trade in them is strictly regulated.
So the history with the Macaws and human interaction goes back a long time and the same can be said for the Amazon Parrot family which were also taken for pets in the same manner as the Macaws.

1 Day old Blue & Gold Macaw baby.

The first breeding results recorded go back to the 1800's and in those days the breeder had to pay even more attention to the birds than now. These days we enjoy all the hard work done by past aviculturists and manufacturers of more recent times to give us handrearing diets and scientists who created the world of DNA sexing; a revolution that helped aviculture tremendously. We now experience breeding successes that only could be dreamed of years ago and which we take for granted.

Rearing Notes: Obviously not recommended for the novice but for the more practiced breeder/rearer who wishes to undertake the challenge; the following detail is not necessarily the same for others but is our experience.
Incubation of the eggs is still quite a science that will not be discussed in detail here. It is always hard to tell whether the problems encountered are to be mainly blamed on the incubator settings or just the handling of the eggs. It is also hard to understand that Macaws are more difficult to hatch than Amazons but that is just a fact we will have to live with! Macaws seem to have a nasty habit of incubating fine right up to hatch and then to 'throw the towel in' at the end. Humidity setting plays a big role here and is trickier to control than the temperature settings. Handrearing of the Macaws is a lot easier than the actual hatching. We often prefer to allow our breeding pairs to hatch their young and take them for handfeeding after the parents have reared them to a certain stage.

7 days old

Feeding from the egg: Once the chick is out of the egg it is a great relief. As with all handrearing there are a lot of products to choose from. We start by using Neocare for the first week in a thin ('runny') consistency. For the first day just extract the watery solution off the top of the mix. Hydration is more important at this stage than food. Feed about every 2 1/2 hrs apart at the beginning and increase the thickness and duration of the feeds by the mobility of the crop. The same as for with any birds there are some rules to be observed.

First point to note is that more birds are killed by overfeeding than by underfeeding.
How the chick hatches is always important, for this exercise we are assuming that the humidity was set correctly and the chick had a clean hatch without any assistance. The reason why this is important is because of the amount of egg yolk "chick's food container" that may be left in the abdomen. Many chicks die from yolksac poisoning when fed too quickly and fed too thick after hatching. People panic when they're new to feeding from the egg and rightly so as there is much to be cautious about, we have had our share of trepidation in this area in the past, but with due diligence the job can be done. The first thing to check is the colour of the abdomen. A dark or black patch in the stomach area means the chick hatched with a quantity of food retained from the egg.

16 days old, eyes are just slitting open.
The first days of the chick's life are the most critical for any species. Hydration is key to any healthy chick. Feed fairly thin for this reason in the beginning and increase the thickness slowly over time. First and foremost do not feed a chick till it has passed meconium (the first droppings) and if the dark patch is still visible at this stage only hydrate until the abdomen is pink and clear. You do not need to feed over night. Many people are reluctant to have a go at feeding from the egg because of through-the-night-feeds.
In our opinion it is not necessary and can even set a chick's progress back if done and due care is not taken to allow the chick to empty out. It is vital that the chick's system has some time when it completely cleans out. As stated earlier feeding too soon can be dangerous, the same applies for overfeeding. It is more important for the handrearer and the chick to have a good rest during the night and for the chick to clean out completely. Our recommendation is to aim for the last feed around 11pm or midnight and begin again at around 7am.

25days old
Temperature for the first 3 days of life can be around 36°C. Day 4 till day 8 temp - 35℃. Day 9 till day 14 temp - 34°C and slowly bring the temperature down paying attention to the growth of the secondary down feather of the Macaw chicks. As the photos show they do not get much secondary down feathering and it grows at a later age to Amazons. Macaw chicks stay naked longer than a lot of other species. From around the 20 day old mark the chick will do fine in a box with a heating pad placed in an upright position so the chick can move away from the heat source if it needs to or closer to keep warm. A major error by breeders has resulted in chicks being killed by placing the heating pad in the bottom of the box consequently overheating as the bird cannot escape from the heat on a hot day to regulate its own body temperature.
The next vital detail to take notice of is first signs of problems with crop mobility, the time taken for the food to be digested and crop emptied. Always use a thermometer to test the temperature of the food to be fed to the chicks at all times. If the formula is fed too cool the young chicks can cool down too fast. If they are overfed and the crop has been expanded too fast or too much, the crop can go sour. Unfortunately this is easy to do with Macaws so always observe the crop as to how it has expanded. If the crop resembles a large 'beer belly' then the last bit of the food remains in the crop as it has sagged too far down to empty properly.

Below chick 28 days old

The same applies for when food is fed too soon on top of food already in the crop, which can and invariably will, lead to crop stasis. Firstly try administering just water to clean out fast, if this doesn't work fast enough then obtain some nystatin drops. The local chemist should have in stock 'Nilstat' (a brand of nystatin drops often prescribed for treating oral thrush in human infants).
Best results are achieved if the medicine is mixed with water and fed 15 minutes before the normal feed and in more severe cases administer just the medication until you see crop mobility again. Consult a veterinarian if at all concerned and no improvement is shown.

As mentioned before chicks from 20 days on (or even earlier if the weather is pretty warm) can be transferred to a cardboard box with wood shavings because these hand fed young do have droppings that are very liquid and excess moisture can create problems if not managed. Using a heating pad with a few chicks together assists with the heating. They do not have to be the same species but will have to be around the same size.
We use a cardboard box on a mesh shelf creating better air flow to allow more moisture to escape. The other advantage of a cardboard box is that parrots do not breed in plastic buckets or glass aquariums and the more we can resemble nature the better. The cardboard box is the closest in appearance to the nestbox. It doesn't need cleaning or disinfecting as it can be discarded when overly soiled, replaced with an easily obtained new one and is free!

Handrearing Macaws is not for the faint-hearted and can take from 4 to 8 months depending if the handrearer missed the 'cutting off point' when the bird wants to start flying at around the 3 months of age. At this age the bird is not eating much because it wants to lose some weight so it can become airborne, it is very noticable that the young bird is increasingly more interested in exercising its wings than paying attention to eating. Some beginners panic, thinking that something may be wrong because the bird is refusing the same amount of food that it was eating last week.
It is a natural process for the bird to behave like this and the trick to weaning birds of any description ealier is to get them used to solid food before the weaning at an earlier time and let the birds play with the food while they only think about the next feed. This way most bird types will know what adult food is and have had a taste of many food items. Then at weaning time they want all the other different tastes they've become familiar with and not the wet handrearing mix.

Next is the "wanting to fly" stage which involves a lot of pre-flights from the end of your fingers, hand, wrist or from a short branch in your hand. The bird will attempt to sit higher on your arm or even shoulder, it's best for both, bird and handler, that the bird is not allowed to go any higher than waist height while you are handling it. Preventing the bird from climbing higher now at the training stage is one thing you won't have to rectify later. Birds that are allowed to be higher than their handler can become quite bold and bossy as height defines superiority in the bird world, it is a position of dominance; equals perch on the same level, birds lower down the 'pecking order' perch beneath, with the 'top-bird' perched highest.
Young birds trying to exercise and strengthen their wings are unsteady at first and will try to hold on with their beak, this is often mistaken for biting rather than the bird holding steady by using your arm. As soon as a chick is wanting to perch on the side of their holding container, supply a perch they can sit on and feed them from the perch if they want to. By this stage we will have moved the box with the chick/s to a big weaning cage so the bird/s can freely climb around and perch in a safe environment. Additionally the chick will wear those sharp toenails down on the perch. Young Macaws at this age going straight from a container/box on to a human arm will usually always draw blood from the handler due to the razor sharp toenails and the fact that young birds clamp on either to not fall down or take flight if wing flapping/exercising.

Introduce the young macaw chicks to as many varied food textures and flavours as possible, prior to their weaning stage. We often start with bananas and pears as well as soaked softened seed and shelled nuts at this stage. The fruits are often appealing to the young as soft foods. Chopping up all the green vegetables and fruit and mixing with the soaked seed will ensure they soon acquire a taste for most of it. Leaving a part of corn on the cob as a toy at the bottom of the cage will help as well in the weaning process. When they are picking at a bit of food out of curiosity and playfulness they gradually learn they can eat this. Macaws are at the higher end of the parrot intelligence scale and are naturally wary of strangers.
As they view any newcomer as a potential risk, the new owner of a young Macaw needs to take things slowly and steadily gain the bird's confidence, only training when he or she is relaxed and has the spare time to do so. Being calm and staying that way will keep the bird relaxed. As mentioned earlier the young bird will use its beak to move about, at the training stage it is very important to stay calm and relaxed even if the bird's claws or beak is giving discomfort. Moving the bird to a different position and moving the beak without a big fuss or loud reaction is advised as young, intelligent birds will often turn it into a game to gain an exciting dramatic response (such as hearing their handler yell out in pain).

To help prevent boredom give the birds plenty of material to play with, one of the best toys is a fresh unsprayed apple tree branch or any gum tree branch The birds will slowly de-bark the branch and eat the gumnuts if any. (Adult birds in aviaries will appreciate branches to chew too.) Whilst on the subject of boredom we should stress that feeding birds like Macaws simply a diet of pellets only is doing the wrong thing by these birds in our opinion. Birds relish fresh fruit and vegetables not only for variety in their diet but as a source of daily pleasure to rip food apart and eat it. The food contributes to their entertainment; the same applies to feeding nuts (a necessity in Macaws for the need of a higher fat content),
feeding shelled nuts gives them the nutrition they need without the stimulation; feeding nuts in the shell presents a challenge at first to the bird, it may take them a little while to work out how to get into the nut but they will. The hardest nut to crack is the Macadamia nut, which is hard, round and shiny but given time they will work out they can pierce a small hole in the shell and slowly prise the nut flesh out. With young Macaws we would recommend drilling a 6mm hole in the shell and the birds will do the rest, later they will create their own hole into the nut. Adult Macaws are kept busy for at least 20 minutes in this process, therefore it is a good toy for young birds.

In closing, there are many good breeders out there and different ways people look after birds, the information and advice given here is based on our ideas and experiences over time.
What we would offer lastly in advice is to read widely and to take ideas from different sources and work it to suit the circumstances, spare time and lifestyle that suit you and the bird/s.

We hope you will enjoy these magnificent birds and the privilege of being able to have them in your care.

Blue & Gold Macaws

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