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SPECIES SHOWCASE

THE BLUE & GOLD MACAW
By R.R. Holster - PetStation

    Each and every member of the wonderful group of parrots known as macaws is unique and special. And of those that are commonly kept as pets, each species has its adoring fans. Yet there is one macaw, famed far and wide for its beauty, personality and disposition, that is perhaps the most popular of all... the steady Blue & Gold Macaw.

    Ara ararauna, sometimes also called the Blue & Yellow Macaw, is a native of a wide region of South America, almost the entire northern half of the continent. They are primarily forest and rainforest birds in their natural setting, often congregating in large flocks, though usually paired up with a mate or buddy. The species is still relatively plentiful through much of its home range, though deforestation is taking its toll on the overall numbers of these magnificent birds. It has disappeared from some parts of its original range. However, the Blue & Gold Macaw has been bred domestically in the United States and other countries for well over three decades. Most pet Blue & Golds are likely fifth to tenth (or more) generation "Americans."

    The Blue & Gold is a large bird, but not quite as large as Scarlet, Greenwing or Hyacinth Macaws. Its size and spectacular plummage make it a showstopper, indeed. An emerald crown gives way to a brilliant blue on the top of the head and across the back and wings. The primary wing feathers shade to a deep indigo. The characteristic macaw facial skin patch is etched by three or so fine lines of black feathers running just below the eyes, which are a beautiful and expressive light green or grey. Below the beak is a small black bib or "beard", while the rest of the chest and belly are solid gold. Only one other parrot looks remotely like it, the Blue-throated Macaw, Ara glaucogularis, which is much less common both in the wild and in aviculture. The Blue-throated Macaw lacks the B&G's green crown, and has a blue rather than black bib.

    Hand-fed baby Blue & Gold Macaws can make sensational pets. They are playful, mischievous, quite intelligent, and often very lovable and loving. However, like all macaws, the Blue & Gold is definitely not for everyone. People contemplating a macaw must think and long and hard about this important decision. Though not usually a "difficult" bird, the Blue & Gold requires a huge commitment of time and energy. In general this species is not suitable as a "first-time" bird.

    The large macaws are, well, large... and need an experienced and confident keeper for acceptable results. A certain amount of strength and stamina is required just to keep up with a raucous, rambunctious macaw, even the more sedate individuals. Many people are intimidated by macaws, as well they perhaps should be. Those powerful beaks are not to be trifled with, for even in play they can inflict some damage. Macaws and small children are generally not a terrific mix, though oftentimes it is the bird that may be more at risk in such pairings. With other pets, the tables may be turned and unless properly socialized a macaw could easily seriously injure a dog or cat. In most circumstances, smaller birds such as Budgies and Cockatiels should not be allowed near a macaw.

    The Blue & Gold, however, has a well-deserved reputation as a pretty laid-back fellow, and if there is a parrot that might well get along famously with the family Golden Retriever, it might be this macaw. When properly socialized as a youngster, these birds will be playful and ever-entertaining members of the family. B & Gs can learn tricks and are capable of speaking quite well, though generally not as well as African Greys or Amazons parrots.

    Current U.S. price range for baby Blue & Golds is around $800-1000 wholesale. Buying your pet bird directly from a reputable breeder is always your best bet. Pet stores may offer this species for $1000-1500. When purchasing any pet bird, always insist on a health guarantee. Macaws are generally quite healthy, but you don't want to be left holding the bag with a bird that was seriously ill or diseased before you acquired it. Prices significantly lower than those listed here may involve sick, wild or smuggled birds; all of which are to be strictly avoided.

    Like all parrots, macaws require a great deal of attention and interactivity. These are not pets to obtain only to later take for granted. Smart and sensitive, the Blue & Gold Macaw will not be happy unless accepted as a full-fledged member of the household.

    They should be housed in very large cages which will allow for play, wing-flapping and other activities to forestall boredom. A cage which does not allow a bird to fully outstretch its wings, with about a foot to spare on either side, is too small. Food, toys and a variety of fresh (untreated) branches will go a long way toward keeping your macaw happy when it is enclosed in its cage.

    However, all parrots should be given extended periods outside their main cage. Many pet parrots have free roaming privileges in certain rooms, others have designated play areas where they can enjoy a change of scenery from the cage environment. Outdoor play areas are especially inviting and invigorating for your macaw. A regular dose of sunshine and outside playtime will help keep your pet healthy and happy. Ideally, a pet parrot will have several areas around the house where it can be with its favorite people while they are going about their activities. The Blue & Gold Macaw loves nothing better than hanging with its family members.

    The B & G needs a balanced diet consisting of lots of "people food" -- veggies, fruits, beans and grains. Commercial pellets can provide a staple, but should not be used exclusively or instead of fresh foods. Seed and nut mixes formulated for the large birds can be used as a daily treat or snack, but these should never constitute the bird's entire diet.

    As with all pets, the prospective Blue & Gold Macaw keeper will get out of his pet what he puts into it. Macaws that are neglected or abused will almost assuredly sour on human companionship and become nippy or outright aggressive. When this occurs, human error is almost always to blame.

    Such is always a shame, for few pets combine the magnificent beauty and potential for sweet companionship as does the Blue & Gold Macaw. Those who love them know what treasures they can be... azure gems from the rainforest realm.

    ****

    Blue & Gold owners and breeders... tell us about your birds. E-mail rustyh@petstation.com

    I just read the article on the blue and gold macaw and found it to be very interesting. I have a yr old blue and gold {Jewels}, whom I love dearly. Being the exception to the rule she is my first bird, I live alone and only recently {Feb} was introduced to the bird world. A friend of mine had left a blue and gold with me for 3 weeks, that did it, birdfever to the max. I did my homework well devouring everything I could get my hands on about these beautiful creatures. I purchased Jewels from a woman who had raised her from a 20 day old chick, I paid a premium price for her $1600.00, includung her cage, but she has been the best purchase I ever made in my life. 3 weeks after Jewels came to live with me, her previous owner called and wanted her back, I started to cry and told her I couldn't part with her now. Her prev. owner would call me and cry because she missed her so much, that in turn made me cry because I knew how she felt, but I do have her in my will, and she will get my Jewels if anything should happen to me. 2 weeks ago one of my dogs died that had been a family pet for many years and the next day I got fired from my job of 19 yrs. I was holding Jewels later that day and was feeling very depressed about everything and she stretched out her wings and encircled my head and put her head close, just like a hug, I started crying so hard because it seemed she was showing me love and caring. I have lived alone for quite some time, but now that I have Jewels, it seems that my life is very contented, even without my job. It's not like I didn't have animals, I raise mini palomino horses, and black and white english springers, my companion dog was handraised, runt, and ended up being the pick of the litter, but the birds, I also have a baby cockatiel named Mickey, have brought so much pleasure to my life, that to not have them now is unthinkable. Nobody in my family had birds, my mother was terrified of them. I knew nothing about birds, I have learned alot through books and pet bird chats. I feel very lucky to have been introduced to the world of birds, especially the beautiful blue and gold macaw.

    Sincerely
    Betty Miller
    mabetty@top.net

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