What Do Macaws Eat?

what-do-macaws-eat

Affectionately nicknamed gentle giants, macaws are a popular choice for a pet. Given their stunning beauty and fierce loyalty, it’s no surprise that thousands of domesticated macaws live in the United States nowadays.

Macaws are high maintenance animals. They are as stubborn and loud as they are beautiful. Keep them strong and healthy by carefully monitoring their diet. 

Because of their high intelligence, macaws are easily tamed and learn quickly. They can effortlessly mimic sounds and find it easy to pick up and repeat human language. These qualities make them one of the most popular birds to appear in film and media. The way movies portray macaws makes them even more appealing as pets.

However, potential macaw owners should first understand this species’ unique nutritional needs.

Macaw Diet: What Can They Eat?

Most macaw owners realize the amount of time, space, and attention behind raising a healthy bird successfully. Before adopting a macaw, knowing the level of commitment involved is essential. Many of them live for over 50 years in captivity. If properly cared for, the average lifespan for a domesticated macaw is 65 years. However, the oldest captive macaw lived to 117!

Educating yourself on proper macaw care, including diet, is essential to responsible bird ownership. These birds’ ever-changing nutritional requirements are not the same as those of other species.

Macaws are different from other parrots in that they require a much larger space and play area. For this reason, macaws shouldn’t be an owner’s first exotic bird, and their living space must safely accommodate their needs. 

Macaw Diets in the Wild

Macaws are native to parts of tropical North and South America. These birds use their giant sickle-shaped beaks to climb the tree bark and reach their food in the wild. They also use them to break open hard nuts and seeds. Once they’ve achieved this, macaws use their incredibly strong tongues to dislodge the meat. They love to eat a variety of plants, fruits, flowers, and leaves.

Surprising as it may seem, certain macaws species can safely ingest various plants that are toxic to humans. Their digestive system counteracts the otherwise harmful tannin in the plants by eating and licking the minerals from certain river-bed clay varieties. There’s still ongoing research on the specific toxins and counteractive enzymes that make this possible.

Macaw Diets in Captivity

In captivity, their diet should closely mirror that of the wild macaw. Owners should continuously monitor their nutrition and adjust it as needed. Bird’s diets are complex, and because of this, they are difficult to manage. This problem leads to a variety of health issues and a shortened lifespan. Understanding your macaw’s needs should begin with a veterinarian who can best guide you toward an appropriate and healthy diet.

With many pets, proper nutrition is about maintenance. With tropical birds, including the macaw, the goal of a well-balanced diet is to help the animal thrive. Because of their high intelligence, macaws require a fat-rich and varied diet at all times.

While seeds are the preferred food of macaws, they shouldn’t be the only thing they’re eating. Owners must supplement their bird’s diet with other nutritional foods. 

Seed Varieties

In tropical ecosystems, wild macaws have access to a wide and ever-changing variety of seeds. Macaws love to eat them throughout the day. However, their nutritional value is minimal, and, when captive, it should never be the only thing they’re eating.

Some pet macaws tend to sort through commercial seed mixes. They select only their favorite ones, rejecting all other varieties, most often favoring sunflower seeds.

Many captive macaws grow on a seed-only diet. Weaning them is a must once they are in a more stable environment. This process takes up to two months, as nutrient-rich pellets, fruits, and vegetables slowly replace grain. It is never advisable to stop feeding seeds to your macaw abruptly when weaning. Ask your veterinarian about the healthiest way to transition.

A Pellet Diet

The tropical variety of seeds, fruits, nuts, vegetables, and clay favored by macaws are not as readily available in most parts of the world. Specialized pellets are useful to meet their dietary needs. These pellets consist of a blend of non-GMO corn and soybean meal, fruits, and vegetables. They help give your macaw the essential nutrients they require for a healthy lifestyle and a more extended lifespan. 

Different formulas of pellets exist depending on the age of the parrot. Each formula meets the needs of a particular developmental period. Older birds may struggle to distinguish pellets as food.

To encourage consumption, mix the pellets with a small amount of seeds. Once they get used to this food, macaws are likely to continue eating it without making a fuss.

Fruits and Vegetables

The types of fruits and vegetables macaws find in their native tropical rainforests habitat vary throughout the seasons. While it is difficult to replicate this variety, certain produce items have become known favorites of domestic macaws.

Experts advise that fruits and vegetables altogether should only account for 20-25% of their daily diet. Supplement these with other, more nutritionally beneficial foods.

Water-heavy vegetables, like iceberg lettuce and celery, are often a macaw’s favorites. However, their lack of vitamins and minerals makes them a poor choice for everyday consumption. A medley of melons, grapes, mangos, pears, carrots, and pineapples is healthier for daily intake. You should entirely avoid feeding your macaw highly acidic fruits, such as oranges and grapefruits. The same goes for avocados, which are toxic to macaws.

Supplemental Nutrition

A mixture of pellets, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds is a great way to keep your macaw’s diet healthy. However, you may still need to consider supplementing this regime with vitamins. A pet nutritionist or a veterinarian can guide you toward your bird’s dietary needs, which can evolve and change over time. An egg-laying macaw may require extra calcium, while a baby macaw might need to up their fat intake.

Macaw vitamin supplements come in powdered form. Mix them into their fresh water or wet food rather than sprinkling them onto their pellets or seeds. This step prevents the powder from falling to the bottom of the food bowl and ensures that the macaw ingests it.

Consult your veterinarian or local tropical pet food supplier for advice on where to find the best powdered supplements for your macaw. 

Conclusion

Macaws make fantastic pets if the knowledge, time, commitment, and space is available for them. Understanding macaw nutrition is one of the most challenging and crucial parts of macaw ownership. Their dietary needs change and evolve throughout their life. A proper evaluation of their intake and requirements is needed periodically to ensure a healthy lifestyle and a long lifespan.

These dietary evaluations should always take place with the assistance of a veterinarian who specializes in tropical birds. Pay further attention if you’re caring for a chick or a macaw that’s recovering from an injury, currently laying eggs, or raising their young. It is particularly important to evaluate these groups for any special dietary requirements.