Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus Order: Psittaciformes Family: Psittacidae
With regard to their availability and suitability as ambassador animals:
- Contact the Parrot TAG for availability of macaws through AZA facilities.
- Macaws do not need to be hand-reared from hatch to make good ambassador birds, in fact, allowing birds to remain with their parents until weaned makes for a healthier individual in many cases – both physically and mentally. Parent reared birds can be reliable in both flighted and non-flighted situations.
- Large parrots can be challenging to work with and are not beginner birds. Experience and commitment of time is required. Ensuring you have enough time to socialize and train a large parrot is important before considering acquisition.
- With all large parrots, in the hands of inexperienced staff, there is the potential for handler injury and undesirable behavior due to improper training.
- Zoo New England, Stone Zoo: experienced handlers are a necessity!
Natural History Information
Range and Habitat
The geographic range of hyacinth macaws is from lower Central America to about halfway down the South American continent and is concentrated south of the Amazon River. They prefer semi-open habitats. These are usually forests which have a dry season that prevents the growth of extensive, tall, closed-canopy tropical forest. Hyacinth macaws live in a variety of habitats, including deciduous woodland, cerrado and palm groves, and the palm-Savannas of the Pantanal.
In human care, large macaws can easily live into their 50s and 60s, some even longer than that. Life span is less in the wild due to threats and habitat loss.
Hyacinth macaws are important seed predators in tropical forests, they may influence forest dynamics through seed predation and dispersal.
The largest of the flying parrots, these guys need a lot of room to move around! As they seem to enjoy both walking and climbing, it is important to provide both horizontal and vertical space. At a minimum, our caging was approximately 6 ft.x10 ft.x6 ft. with several sturdy perches. Important consideration also needs to be made in regard to the Hyacinth’s beak-power – if a Hyacinth can find a way to break something, they will. Never use any plastics or soft metals that can be either broken and ingested or bent/broken in such a way to create dangerous, jagged edges.
Life Cycle Natural History Relevant Information
- During the breeding season, both male and female individuals may demonstrate natural breeding behaviors that make them more challenging to work with and around. Consider time off from ambassador duties during this time.
Temperature, Humidity, Light Cycles
- Macaws require heated space in locations where temperatures drop below 40 degrees.
- This species can be successfully managed on a variety of substrates, such as pea-gravel, dirt, grass, artificial flooring. While they will spend time on the ground foraging, if opportunity presents, they tend more to perching than going to ground. The type of perching is more important than the substrate.
Social Housing/Colony Management
- Macaws are a highly social species. Housing with conspecifics is much better for their individual welfare. However, macaws can also fight with each other and do harm, so attention should be paid to social dynamics and individuals separated as/when necessary for safety. If not housed directly with conspecifics, housing in a side-by-side situation is also good. Housing macaws in solitary situation is not recommended. When housing with conspecifics, attention should be paid to individual preference and birds should be afforded enclosure space large enough to be separate from each other, should they choose.
Other General Housing Requirements or Management information
- Multiple perching options are necessary to maintain good foot health.
- Given the proclivity for macaws to climb and or chew on enclosure mesh, it is important to consider the type (for example, bare wire mesh is more desirable than coated mesh). If possible, stainless steel is a good option for birds that chew on mesh.
- Flight-capable individuals need flight exercise to maintain muscle mass.
- A double door entrance, or some secondary containment, is ideal for any flighted bird. This allows handlers to enter the enclosure safely and without incident.
Diet in the Wild
- These macaws feed on 8 species of palm nuts, which are rich in nutrients and fat. Two of the species of palm trees are Acrocomia iasiopatha and Astryocaryun tucuma. They are largely dependent on palm nuts, but will occasionally feed on small seeds, palm sprouts and snails. Most of the feeding occurs on the ground, though macaws use their ability to climb to pick palm nuts from clusters within the trees.
- Diet under human care
- Under human care, since there is such a wide-variety of commercial parrot pellets out there, it is best to consult with your own institution vet staff regarding preferred diet types. Most widely accepted nutritionally complete diet includes a mix of pellets and fresh produce, with nuts/seeds as supplemental training treats.
- Dietary amounts will vary by individual. Larger and more active individuals requiring higher caloric intake than smaller or inactive individuals. Diet amounts required will also vary seasonally. Understanding the individual requirements of your bird for optimal weight and health should be considered on a case-by-case basis.
- Parrot beaks and nails continuously grow, and therefore need to be continuously watched for cracks, splitting and/or growing too long. Trimming may need to be done regularly.
- Training behaviors to allow for routine maintenance – such as nail trims – is important with parrots.
- Provision of chewing materials for self-maintenance of beak is also critical and trimming of beaks in parrots should not be necessary, unless an underlying medical issue is present, if they are provided enough chewing material to maintain their own beak.
Enrichment & Training
Behavioral Relevant Information
- Need a lot of enrichment! Parrots are gregarious and have a high activity budget, provision of enrichment is highly important to their welfare in human care.
- Changing perches within their habitat.
- Addition of browse.
- Foraging opportunities as well as chewing/destruction opportunities are highly recommended – not only for mental stimulation but also for natural beak care. Providing daily diet in foraging opportunities as opposed to in a bowl is excellent enrichment. Hanging toys, blocks made from 2x4s, foraging bags/bowls/troughs, paper/plastic/wood for chewing and breaking.
- Daily enrichment is recommended. If possible, more than once per day.
Other Enrichment Resources
- Since parrots are so prevalent in the pet world, there are a plethora of online resources for enrichment.
- Voluntary step-up
- Voluntary loading into crate
- Voluntary scale
- Voluntary nail trim
- Voluntary medication from syringe
- Towel training for restraint
- A-B flights
- Calm behavior on hand
- Macaws can be taught a wide variety of novel show behaviors, such as but not limited to, recycling, donation collection, painting, and more.
Reinforcers used & schedule of reinforcement
- This species takes well to positive reinforcement training using its daily diet to reinforce behavior.
Colony or Breeding Management
- Longevity makes them a challenging pet for most people.
- Seed dispersers.
Threats and Conservation Status
Unfortunately, hyacinth macaws live in an area of Brazil that is being rapidly developed. The destruction of their habitat, as well as hunting and trapping by humans, has substantially reduced their numbers. Long term conservation efforts have been made, and now some landowners living in the Patanal do not allow trappers on their property. (Ridgley, 1980).
A. hyacinthinus is currently listed in Appendix I of CITES, a decision which was made in July of 1987. They are classified as endangered on the IUNC Red List.
Interesting Natural History Information
Did you know…
The hyacinth macaw is the largest species of parrot in the world.
Handling & Presentation Tips
- Without careful management, macaws can bond strongly with a single person and can become aggressive to others when that person is around. If bonding occurs, that person should take a step back to ensure that other keepers and trainers can safely work the bird. By having multiple handlers regularly you can assist in preventing such a strong bond from occurring.
- To avoid getting bit, watching for precursors is extremely important. Reddening cheek pads, slowly bobbing heads, feathers raised, head dipped downward, wings out-stretched, lunging forward, can all be signs that the bird would like you to move away. By doing so you teach your bird that they can politely ask you to leave, and they do not need to bite you to get you to do so.
- When presenting a hand to ask the bird to step-up, present it outside of “striking” range, or the radius the bird can reach to bite you. Bring your hand closer only when body language tells you the bird would like to step-up.
- This species may be presented on hand, on a perch, or in free-flight demonstrations.
Pubic Contact and Interaction Guidelines
- Public contact with this species is not advisable.
- Touching is not advisable.
- Transport box suggestions wire crate that is taller rather than wider, to account for the long tail.
- A couple things to keep in mind, crates should not be carried by the handle, but rather using two hands on either side of the crate and supporting it adequately. Swinging transport crates around and or moving them on a bumpy cart may create negative association for the bird, due to an uncomfortable ride and decrease the likelihood that the bird will go in the box on future occasions. If the perch is to low for the bird, their tail feathers may get painted with fecal matter which does not look good on presentation. Varikennel you are able to adjust the height of the perch.
- This species can be trained to voluntarily enter a crate either from the hand or directly from their enclosure. Continuous reinforcement of voluntary crate behaviors as well as dedication to their comfort and safety while in the crate is important to maintaining solid and reliable crate behavior.
- A tropical species, maintaining temperatures above 40 degrees is important. When transporting and using on programs, attention should be paid to the comfort of the individual and any signs of heat distress responded to accordingly.
- Hyacinth macaws are occasionally available through breeding within AZA facilities. Contact the Parrot TAG if you are interested in acquiring a hyacinth macaw.
- Parrot TAG
- Ethical considerations on Parrots in presentations and current recommendations by the EAZA Parrot Taxon Advisory Group
Contributors and Citations
- Nancy Romanik, Education Program Manager, Zoo New England (Stone Zoo)
- Animal Diversity Web: University of Michigan Museum of Zoology
Comments from the Rating System
Top Photo Credit: credit the “header” photo of the species