Garr W Brown
Maryland, United States
Species group: Macaws
AppearanceDetails: The critically endangered Red-fronted Macaw may be the most beautiful macaw species when viewed in flight under a sunlit sky. Perched, with closed wings, the bird is in disguise, for you only get a half impression of its beauty and color. That said, this very rare bird, endemic to the small Andean dry valleys of Bolivia, rarely belongs in private hands. Do not even consider purchasing a Red-fronted Macaw unless you are certain that you have a legally bred bird, that you can comply with all regulations that involve holding a species on the brink of extinction, and that you will be willing to make all decisions about the bird's care and breeding with regard to the best interest of your pet and the species, rather than financial costs.
Weight: 550 grams
Average size: 60 centimeters
Lifespan: 30+ years
Diet: The Red-fronted Macaw lives in a more arid, scrubbier region than the more popular macaws, and it may not require so rich a diet. You should be networking with breeders and other legal owners of this species for the most up-to-date information, but there may be several good diets that will work for this species. A good pellet-based diet, with lots of chopped vegetables and fruits on the side, can be a good daily diet, but take care that this intelligent bird does not get bored with the pellets. Soak-and-cook, either from a vet or a commercial supplier, can be the answer, although it's more work than pellets.Many people like to create their own grain and legume based diet, which generally includes a mix of well-cooked beans and grains, including brown rice. As a practical matter, you will probably want to prepare the cooked diet in large batches, freezing what you're not using in a couple of days, and then defrosting it as you need it. A well-socialized Red-fronted Macaw may want to help you eat your dinner, which is fine if you eat a healthy diet that's rich in vegetables and whole grain, but never allow a macaw to sample avocado, chocolate, or undercooked meat or poultry. Monitor the weight of the bird to decide if you would like to reserve nuts (including peanuts, which this species enjoys) to be offered by hand for training and with foraging toys, or if you need to add higher amounts of nuts to the food bowl. Sunflower seeds might also be a good choice for hand training too.
Housing: A single Red-fronted Macaw needs a huge, specialty cage that accommodates the long, graceful tail. A good minimum sized primary cage would be 40"w x 30"d x 60"h with no more than 1-1/2" bar spacing. Many captive Macaws rarely or never fly, so it's more important to have room to encourage them to climb than to worry about a long horizontal flight. The cage should be a professionally constructed, powder-coated metal. Cheap wooden fittings and perches will be chewed-up matchsticks in less than a day. You should employ stout manzanita perches in areas where you do not want to change the perches very often. You should also have plenty of macaw-safe perches and oys for the bird to chew at will. Do not punish the bird for chewing these items to destruction, since you want your pet to chew them for good healthy exercise. Yes, you'll go through a lot of toys. A macaw is not a cheap date, and financial matters should never be an issue if you are considering taking on a Red-fronted Macaw.It is very important with the Red-fronted Macaw to provide a large playpen area that is away from the cage -- NOT on top of the cage. At times, especially during hormonal surges, your Red-fronted Macaw can become very territorial about its cage, and you will want to have plenty of practice moving the bird to neutral territory where the macaw can play without feeling obligated to defend the area. They are powerful birds, and you want to establish yourself as kind but in control of the relationship from the very beginning. These birds go in pairs or, perhaps, small family groups in the wild, and it is not natural for them to spend a lot of time alone. At some point, as the bird matures, because of its endangered status, you may want to place the bird in a breeding program, so at all times, keep open to networking with other legal breeders and owners, so that you will be able to make the right choices for your pet.
There are probably 150 or fewer Red-fronted Macaws remaining in their wild habitat in the Andean dry valleys of Bolivia, their only home. There is no debate about the cause of their decline -- illegal theft and smuggling of the birds for the pet trade, pure and simple. They live in a dry, scrubby area and nest on the ledges of red stone cliffs. Three villages in the vicinity of the most important breeding cliffs are now banded together to share in the proceeds from birding tourists who visit the ecolodge, providing a motive for many eyes to watch these macaws and protect them from the poachers. However, with the population at such a low point, we all have a responsibility to report it if we become aware of any unethical or illegal activity involving these birds. Know your breeder, and know the history of any Red-fronted Macaw that someone proposes to sell to you. Verify what you are told.
The Red-fronted Macaw is a pair-bond bird, and your pet can develop a deep, trusting affection for you. They are intelligent and loving, so for someone who can provide for their needs and respect their normal macaw behaviors, they make good companions. Please bear in mind that if you see one Red-fronted Macaw in the wild, you almost always see its mate, and if you don't see it right away, the other bird will call in its partner pretty quickly. Never leave this bird alone and neglected. Instead, choose this species only if you can be a true companion to the bird. Be aware of hormonal issues, since a macaw may sometimes bite its "mate" if it sees a rival enter the area. Learn to recognize your bird's body language, and have plenty of chewable distractions that you can offer the bird to work off its beakiness when you suspect your pet feels nippy or challenged by your spouse, child, or even a friend. They are intelligent and not difficult to train, but if you have any doubt about your ability to handle your Red-front, a consultation with a bird trainer or parrot behaviorist could be a great investment.Written by Elaine Radford