I love animals and I have had pets my whole life. At one time or another, I have had cats, dogs, horses, geese and goats. Since moving out, mostly I have had dogs. I love my Australian Shepherds, but I did make a brief foray in bird ownership. For a while, my husband and I raised a military macaw-Scully and a green wing macaw-Calli. It was one of the most amazing experiences, but not one for the faint of heart. I encourage anyone interested in having macaws to commit only after much research and consideration.
Here is a very brief list of concerns when thinking about bring a macaw into your life.
Common Household Hazards
Basically, macaws are lungs with feathers. They are very susceptible to airborne particles. Normal things for humans, dogs, or cats can be toxic to birds. The hazardous list is actually quite extensive, and you should be aware of these items before you think about getting a bird. It will change how you do many things. From my experiences with macaws, here are just a few changes I had to make:
- Stopped using candles. Smoke of any kind is bad for pet birds, but the scent in candles can also be deadly.
- Eliminated any products treated with PTFE. Teflon coated pans are the most common. When PTFE is over-heated, it emits an odorless gas that is harmful to humans but deadly to birds. PTFE is used in many small kitchen appliances, stoves, and space heaters. Always check before purchasing.
- Throw out most of my cleaning products. Many cleaning and disinfecting products also emit odors that can damage bird’s respiratory tracts. I learned the many ways to use vinegar as a cleaner instead of commercial products, after getting my macaws.
- Change paint and carpet: carpet glue and carpet treatments (like stain resistance) can be harmful to birds, as well as paint fumes. When we needed to repaint and put in new flooring, we had to be very careful. Not only did we opt for tile (which helped with bird mess cleanup), we actually hired a one-day service that used zero VOC paint because we wanted to limit the birds’ exposure to paint. We felt better about the short time frame (one day vs a full weekend) and we could take the birds out of the house while it was painted.
This is just sample of the things we changed in our daily lives. You probably would not think about any of these if you were adding a cat or dog to your household.
The other biggest change was in feeding time. Cats and dogs are easy. Owners do their research and find the best food they can afford, but it is still as simple as kibble and/or canned food in a bowl. Feeding takes a couple of minutes. Feeding macaws is not that simple. They need a seed/nut mixture for the fat and protein, but fresh produce is also a necessity. This means cleaning and preparing fresh produce every day, something not done in a couple of minutes.
Also, birds are even more susceptible than humans are to the dangers of pesticides. So, there is always the consideration of do you buy organic for the birds? We pretty much followed the EWG list of the dirtiest to cleanest produce, buying organic for the top 10 dirtiest. I will admit, sometimes the macaws ate better than we did. I have never said that about my cats or dogs.
This is blessing and a curse. Many of the large parrots, especially macaws, can live to between sixty and seventy years. You will probably not have to live through the death of your pet. However, what happens when you die? Will your children take the bird? Many doting bird parents have created trust funds for their bird children to make sure they are well cared for after the parents die. It is a serious consideration.
Intelligence and behavior
Finally, dogs base much of their behavior on pleasing humans. Macaws base their behavior on what they want. Luckily, this quite often coincides with what we want. Macaws are very social animals. They love to be around their families, and involved in what they are doing. This means, they will not stay happily in one room while you are doing things in another room. They want to be where the action is. If left in the other room, they are smart enough to find a way to you. It might be as tricky as learning to open their cage door. It could be a brute force attack of high decibel screaming until you come. Mine went with the sweet-talking. They would softly call my name, repeatedly, continually, until I came and got them. Whatever the means, they will be with their family. Moreover, this is just one instance of how macaws are smart enough to get what they want.
Having birds in the house was an amazing experience. They love to cuddle and will coo, hum, giggle or purr when you scratch their heads or preen the feathers on the back of their neck. They are natural entertainers and have a clownish sense of humor. Ours loved to take showers with us. They had a great time playing in the spray. Macaws are affectionate with their families, on their terms. My heart melted the first time mine called me by name.
On the downside, they are time-consuming, expensive and a completely different level of commitment from a cat or a dog. My husband could not handle the demands on his time and attention they required. That is the only reason I am no longer a macaw momma, which is heartbreaking. Macaws are amazing, but please do your research before you commit.
Valerie Jocums loves the sun, her Australian Shepherd dog, and her fiancé George. When she isn’t mountain biking, practicing her public speaking skills, or reading, she is writing about everything she has learned.