The Red-bellied Macaw is an amazing specimen to look it. This parrot falls into the Mini Macaw category and is about 18 inches in length with the tail making up about a third of the bird’s overall length. This stunning creature looks “exotic” and looks nothing like its more notable cousins, the Mini Macaws, kept in captivity. Rather, it slightly resembles them and falls into its own genus Orthopsittaca.
Starting with the face, yellow patches of skin are surrounded by dark brown beady eyes. The beak and feet are black and used for gripping and dismantling palm nuts. Though this bird is not adorned with bright colors that are typical of macaws, it does have hues of blue that can best be described as peacock blue. This blue coloring is mainly seen on the head and on the primary feathers of the bird’s wings. The crest area has a tuft of gray that fades to a slight area of lime green and a dull red belly—hence the name “Red-bellied Macaw.”
The underparts of the wings are yellow, yet not vibrant. The wings also have hues of gray on them as well.
These birds are not sexually dimorphic, which means males and females look identical. If a breeder wishes to know the sex of their Red-bellied Macaws, then the only reliable way is through DNA testing.
Younger birds look dull compared to fully matured adults with light gray beaks and a white stripe on the upper beak that will fade as the bird matures.
RED-BELLIED MACAWS IN THE WILD
Red-bellied Macaws reside in Amazon swamplands and can be found in Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, and Trinidad. These birds thrive in flocks and it’s not uncommon to see them soar throughout the sky riding the wind currents, making their contact calls, and congregating on palm trees to roost. These gregarious parrots can be found in larger flocks consisting of 10 – 20 birds.
When the birds are gearing up to breed, the female and male will seek out a cavity in an old tree where the female will prepare it and raise their young. The male will stand guard and feed the hen until the babies are old enough to fledge, usually around 77 days, and the babies will remain with their parents until the chicks are ready to venture off and make their own way among the forest trees.
Unlike other macaw species that split away from their flock mates during the breeding season, Red-bellied Macaws do not. Instead, they stay together all year round and have a longer breeding season than most macaws in general.
These birds have a specialized diet that consists mainly of palm fruits and nuts. Though their true diet remains somewhat of a mystery, these birds have been seen gathering at clay licks with other mini macaw species consuming the clay. The reason for this? It is believed the clay adds extra nutrients and minerals and helps rid the macaws of intestinal parasites.
RED-BELLIED MACAWS IN CAPTIVTY
Red-bellied Macaws are not commonly kept as household pets. Rather, they are overshadowed by their popular Mini Macaw cousins. Another reason these birds are not so popular in captivity is because their breeding and diet habits make them difficult to keep as well.
Back in the early 60’s and 70’s many trappers found these birds to be fragile. In fact, almost all Red-bellied Macaws that were captured and shipped out of Guyana or South America unfortunately died. It was not until Howard Voren, a professional aviculturist for over thirty years, took the time to figure out what was causing their sudden onset of death. Eventually, he was able to succeed in keeping a viable stock alive and some were shipped to the United States. It turned out these parrots thrived on special palm fruits that contained high levels of beta carotene and Vitamin A. This abundant palm fruit in their native habitat is a staple for these birds, also their diet contains little fat. This was shocking as most macaws thrive on a higher fat diet. Because of this discovery, it is now possible to house and breed these parrots in captivity, but as mentioned above, they remain rare specimens.
If a prospective buyer wishes to find one of these majestic creatures, their best bet would be calling around or going to bird shows. It is more likely a future buyer will get their hands on a Golden-collared Macaw instead of this particular specie. That being said, if an owner does become lucky enough to attain a pair of Red-bellied Macaws, careful consideration should be taken and the birds should be placed into a breeding program so future generations may enjoy them.
RED-BELLIED MACAWS AS PETS
Because these parrots are rather rare in captivity, those that have been blessed to own these birds find them alluring from the beginning. They are very active, loving, and need constant human interaction to remain happy. It is unwise to purchase a Red-bellied Macaw if an owner works long hours or is not home long enough as many will develop phobic tendencies such as biting, screaming, plucking, or self mutilation.
If hand fed and well socialized at a young age, many will learn to enjoy human interaction and the Macaw should not become deemed a “one person bird.”
Like all macaw species, the Red-bellied Macaw is no different when it comes to seeking their owner’s attention. These birds enjoy being petted behind their necks, around their eyes, and some even on their tummies. This type of interaction is important because it is similar to how a flock mate would groom the bird in the wild.
Incorporating the bird into the owner’s life is important. These birds can easily be perched on an owner’s shoulder while reading, doing household chores, or moving about. Many are just as happy watching television with their owners too. They just need constant handling to remain tame and loving.
It should also be said these parrots are loud. It would not be wise keeping a Red-bellied Macaw in an apartment because the neighbors will surely complain. These birds are best kept in a home environment that does not have neighbors sharing the same wall. Most parrots are noisy and their contact calls can be expected early in the morning, noon, and before sunset. If the parrot is placed in a noisy room, expect the parrot to compete with the noise level and become exceptionally vocal.
Also, these birds should be worked with on a daily bases as they tend to become phobic. Red-bellied Macaws are extremely smart and for this reason, the owner should teach the bird all kinds of tricks. This constant interaction is important as the bird will have something to do. Simple things like turning around, waving, speaking on command, playing fetch, or painting can be taught. If such tricks are going to be taught to the parrot, then the owner must adopt a positive reinforcement program to help the bird learn.
If an owner wishes to take the bird outside, which is a personal choice, then it might be wise to clip the parrot’s wings as they can easily become startled or a gust of wind can carry them far away. To aid owners that wish to take their Red-bellied Macaws outdoors, there are many products on the market that allow the bird to be outside safely such as a harness or a carrier. If taken outside, the bird should master its recalling indoors first to ensure the bird can be recaptured should an escape occur.
These parrots are somewhat great mimics. They are not gifted in this department; however, some owners swear by their vocal abilities. That being said, you should know that most macaws are not great at talking anyway. Many only learn a few words at best. Though their words can be understandable, these birds cannot pick up extensive vocabularies like budgies or African Greys.
BREEDING RED-BELLIED MACAWS
Breeding the Red-bellied Macaw is a challenging endeavor in itself. These rare macaws are finicky and have a nervous disposition if they are from the first generation raised by wild parents. If such a scenario is the case, these birds need to be protected and kept away from noisy environments as this might startle them while breeding. That being said, it is advised any breeder wishing to venture into breeding these uncommon macaws have the proper facility to do so.
The best specimens for breeding are those that have been hand fed, but not too tame, then after weaning, placed back with other Red-bellied Macaws immediately. This helps to lessen their nervousness and allows them to be more comfortable around humans, especially when the nest needs to be inspected.
The main challenge of breeding these birds seems to be the fact that the bloodline is minimal at best. Breeders who specialize in breeding Red-bellied Macaws should connect with other breeders and make arrangements to strengthen the bloodline with genetic diversity. This will ensure future parrot owners can attain these parrots without illness or genetic diseases, thusly making them strong and healthy.
These birds tend to be fussy about their nesting site as well. These parrots prefer L shaped nesting boxes or long vertical boxes. The female must be able to go deep within the box with little light as this gives her added security. When such a nesting box is used, wood shaving should be placed on the bottom to cushion the eggs.
Those who specialize in breeding these macaws find that keeping these birds in sight of other breeding pairs proves fruitful. There should be no barriers to block the other nesting macaws as they seem to enjoy the company of the other pairs. Perhaps the sight of other Red-bellied Macaws makes them feel secure?
Obviously, any bird entered into a breeding program should be checked by an avian veterinarian; however, caution should be used when getting the birds examined as the past has proven that standard checkups can quickly lead to an overload of stress and possibly death. This is why special care should be used and the bird should be calmed before medical exams.
EGGS AND CHICKS
If the macaws get to the point of producing eggs, a breeder can expect between two to four white eggs. The female Red-bellied Macaw will incubate the eggs for roughly 26-27 days. Just before the eggs hatch, roughly about 48 hours before, the babies will make a pip mark from inside the egg. During this time, it is advised the chicks be monitored to ensure they hatch, and that the mother feeds the young chicks on schedule. If this happens, the babies should be left with their mother until weaned or pulled for hand feeding.
If all goes well, the babies will leave the nest around 80 days, sometimes sooner. During their first exit from the box, the breeder should whistle or approach the cage quietly to be sure not to startle the babies. Most newly fledged babies will take flight when they first see an owner coming to do cage chores and could injure themselves in an effort to escape.
Because these birds come from wetlands, it is advised a few bowls of water be placed into the breeding enclosure. Some breeders report the babies have an instinctive need to bathe excessively.
Juvenile Red-bellied Macaws will have a white stripe on their beak that will eventually fade away when the Macaw reaches about seven to eight months. Not only do they have this white stripe on their beak, but juveniles are also dull in comparison to their parents and lack the vibrant yellow mask as well. As the birds mature, the feathers will become vibrant, usually after the second molt.
When selecting a cage, whether it be for breeding or for a pet, these birds need a large cage. The cage should be powder coated or made of stainless steel. This ensures the birds never come into contact with zinc, which seems to be a popular route of metal poisoning for these birds. If the cage has any rust, it should immediately be scrubbed or painted over with a non-toxic paint to ensure the bird does not ingest any.
Because these macaws are on the smaller side, the bar spacing should not be too wide as this can cause problems while the owner is away. These parrots are highly curious and can easily get their head stuck between bars that are too far spaced. Because of this, the bars should be roughly half an inch apart.
As far as how large the cage should be, the cage should be as large as your budget can afford. These birds are highly active and will remain busy all day swinging, climbing about, chewing, and flapping their wings. For this reason, the bird should never be able to touch the cage bars when placed in the center. This is a good rule of thumb to keep in mind. If you’re looking for actual dimensions, the cage should be roughly three feet wide, by two feet in depth, by three feet in height. This is just a rough calculation to give you an idea of how large a proper cage should be.
Also, having a large cage ensures you can fill the cage with plenty of toys without the bird feeling overcrowded and stressed.
The bottom of the cage should have a grill and tray to ensure all waste can fall to the bottom and the bird cannot access it. This tray should be easy to slide out and clean daily.
All perches should be made of strong wood as these birds have strong beaks. The perches should be made of different sizes to ensure the bird can exercise its feet.
Bowls or platforms should never be placed under purchases as these can easily get contaminated with the bird’s droppings.
Having a play area is essential. Since these birds are in captivity, they don’t have the option to forage. This is why a play stand should be brought into your home. It should have all kinds of toys and foraging opportunities. The stand should have wooden beads, ropes, and swings to occupy the bird throughout the day. Training the bird to stay on the stand can easily be accomplished by putting the bird on their daily.
FEEDING A PROPER DIET TO A RED-BELLIED MACAW
It is no secret these parrots look mysterious and so is their diet. Because Red-bellied Macaws are nervous by nature and thrive in swamplands, it can difficult to observe what they actually eat. After several failed attempts on importing these birds, it was soon learned their diet was very specialized. If an owner wishes to house these birds they should be fed a variety of foods that contain higher levels of Vitamin A such as carrots, sweet potatoes, red peppers, dark leafy greens, butternut squash, apricots, Papaya, mangos, and cantaloupe.
In the wild a large portion of these parrots’ diet consists of Mauritius Palm fruits. These fruits contain high levels of Vitamin A, are high in carbohydrates, and have little fat. For this reason, keepers should mimic this same diet.
Additionally, with high vitamin foods, a pelleted diet should be given to ensure the parrots receive the maximum amount of nutrients.
For this particular macaw, seeds should be given sparingly as they might cause food allergies. A bird that is fed improperly is likely to pluck its feathers.
Another staple for this parrot should be dates. There are many varieties available on the market. Dates are a complex carbohydrate with no fat and are similar to Beruti palm fruits. Red palm oil can be lightly drizzled over the dates to help kick up the beta carotene, which the parrots will convert to Vitamin A once digested.
If you’re Red-bellied Macaw is fed a proper diet, you can expect the bird to enjoy a long life of roughly 30-40 years.