Care and Feeding

Tips and Q&A


How much does a Macaw eat?

  • The average healthy Macaw will consume approximately 10-15% of its own body weight daily. An average bird weighs 925 grams and at the rescue center each bird consumes on average 125 grams per bird each day or some 98 pounds in the course of a year.

  • Naturally, the more active an existence a bird is  allowed, the more it will eat and process. Birds don't chew but rather use their beak to break open nuts or shred vegetables and fruits. They can hold the food in their claws while opening the food for consumption. The food drops down the throat into their "crop' which fills up quite quickly. The "crop" serves to store the food for future digestion and appears like a big lump at the top of its chest. The food then passes from the "crop" and over the next two to three hours is digested and exits the system as a dropping containing feces and urine (the dark green is the feces and the lighter white to clear material is the urine. A bird will pass its excrement usually every 20 minutes and does so up to 40 or 50 times a day. Aviary or flight cage birds get plenty of exercise. Coupled with access to direct sunlight and occasional rain the bird will show its good health by having shiny feathers.


What do we feed a Macaw?

  • The diet should consist of mainly seed with vitamins and minerals, nuts, vegetables and fruits. Rice, Potatoes, Pasta and scrap bones add interest but are not a natural part of the diet.

  • Macaw Rescue uses Higgins Company products as the base. Although there is waste from the seed shells and other seeds too small for the Macaw, our 25 years experience using this product prove its effectiveness. Pelletized food has not been used because although it provides an ideal diet, it does not approximate the natural environment.

  • Nuts used for the Macaws consist of Brazil Nuts for Hyacinths and Pecans for the others. Both these Nuts grow in the natural habitats of these species. Such Nuts are available from NUTS.COM and its important to get ONLY the raw brazil nut IN its shell. The Opening of the shell is an important part of the bird's process to maintain its beak.                                    

                                        What does it cost to feed a Macaw?

  • Typically prepared seeds will cost between $35 and $50 per 25 pound bag. Brazil nuts are hard to find but range in price from $150-175 for a 50 pound box.

  • The average cost of only the food for one bird at Macaw Rescue is about $.45 per day or just under $155 per year. When you add in the cost of the preparation and the facilities operation and maintenance it becomes about $1.60 per bird per day or a whopping annual cost of just over $600 each. That cost does not include the rent for the facilities nor the volunteer labor costs.

                                        What does a Macaw drink?

  • The water source is also very important to avoid introducing E Coli and other bacteria. Macaw Rescue only provides water from a 12 gallon per day Distiller. During emergencies a three stage plus Ultraviolet water purifier system is used. Both systems are available from Waterwise in Leesburg, Florida.

  • At the Sanctuary, the birds use some 6 gallons daily which equates to about 1/2 liter per bird per day but each bird probably only drinks or ingests about 50 ml of that amount. The rest is used to dip food into or even bathe in some cases. Either way, the water becomes contaminated by day's end and requires changing. In the wild, the birds simply move on to another water source.

                                        When do we feed a Macaw?      

  • We usually prepare the food fresh each morning and by 10:30 AM we serve the food but in practice it is never too early. After about 4 hours we remove what is left and recapture anything useable for the next day. No food is left overnight which helps to control attracting insects and rodents, keeps food free from feces and assures the birds only receive fresh and clean food.

  • In the wild, birds must forage far and wide for their food. Usually they will leave the mountains at daybreak and fly down to the coastal plains to feed on fruits, plants and nut trees. They stay in the shade hopping from tree to tree and by mid-afternoon have a full crop. They digest their food while resting high in the trees and out of the direct sun before flying back to roost in the hills before sunset. As they fly around they leave their feces behind which contains undigested seedlings. In this way Nature assures that plants are reseeded without need for man's interference.


How much time does a Macaw require?

  • The policy at the sanctuary is to allow the birds to be birds. Birds are very social animals and for this reason are always seen in flocks of a dozen or more - sometimes up to hundreds in the wild. They mate and do so for life. Baby birds raised by hand in a human environment may bond to some degree with their human owner. Separating them from their owner can cause "separation anxiety" and result in bad behavior such as feather plucking. In our environment we must provide 24/7 care to provide food and shelter and security. Given the bird has no access to its natural defense mechanism - namely to give flight and flee the danger - the human intervention is required at ALL times to protect from cats, racoons, rats, hawks and other human beings.

  • Going away for the weekend and leaving "enough food and water" in a cage is a poor choice. Firstly, the bird will tend to eat everything which after a few hours will have been processed leaving nothing for the remaining days. Birds do not self diet anymore than dogs do. Secondly the water will get dirty and collect bacteria from foodstuffs falling into it; thirdly, the feces on the floor of the cage will grow bacteria injurious to the bird and finally it will be denied the social interaction it requires and demands. This leads to poor character and stress.

  • At the sanctuary over 5 man hours are necessary each day to prepare the food, clean the cages, do the daily change of water, maintain the facilities and attend to the administration  of the enterprise. That is equivalent to just about 7 minutes per day per bird. However, the birds have each other for attention and many other things to keep them busy and occupied. In a home environment where usually there is only one bird with little else to keep it occupied, a bird would require significantly more human attention to maintain a healthy attitude.

How often does a Macaw cage require cleaning?

  • Every day ! At the sanctuary the bird cages are vacuumed every day to remove all loose or discarded food,  residue from chewing wood as well as preened feathers or feces from perches, cage bars or the floor. The smaller the cage, the more urgent this matter becomes. The main enemy of a Macaw is bacteria which grows quickly on residue and waste left in a cage.

  • Food dishes are removed daily and sanitized in a washing machine daily. Water dishes are removed, sanitized and replaced with fresh water daily.

  • Every cage receives a thorough pressure washing every week and the flight aviaries have the grass cut and residue seeds and shells raked up, collected and removed from the ground weekly.

  • Birds look beautiful and clean but they are in fact very messy housekeepers and require a dedicated cleaning service when maintained in confined quarters. In the wild they just move on and contaminate another area while mother nature cleans up their mess over time using rain, wind and an army of insects and other animals.


What is a good cage for a Macaw ?

  • Commercially made welded metal cages are the best. They should be able to be locked and have lockable doors for the food and water dishes. The dishes should be large and deep to accommodate the Macaw's large beak. The wire floor should not allow the Macaw to access the tray below which collects the droppings and residue foodstuff.

  • All maintenance and food and water delivery should be done from outside the cage and not require direct access to the bird to avoid the possibility of escape or injury to the care giver.

  • The larger the cage the better so that the bird can move around from perch to perch and exercise its wings inside the cage. Here are some examples of cages made exclusively for Macaws: