Bird Magazine, Bird Books, Bird Accessories, Bird DVDs

Mini Macaws

Being smaller and some species easer to breed, they are much more affordable for the hobbyist. Be warned, however, they may be smaller than the large macaws but they still have very loud voices! As in the article on the larger macaws I am only going to deal with the four species and subspecies that we most often encounter in aviculture. The remainder are scarce, expensive and a challenge to breed. But if one can afford the price and the time, they are very interesting birds to work with.

Yellow-collared Macaw
(Ara auracollis) Foreshaw
New scientific name Primolius auricollis

My personal experience with mini Macaws has been mostly with the Yellow-collared Macaw. I did not find them to be excessively noisy although when the mood took them they could be very noisy for a short time. Our younger pairs had all been hand- reared, so they didn’t seem to be disturbed by us being near them and were relatively quiet.

Although the Yellow-collared does not have the same extensive distribution as the other commonly occurring mini macaws, its habit in central South America is very varied and this has made them adaptable. The result is that in spite of deforestation they are managing to survive in the residual forest patches surrounded by farmlands. This makes them conspicuous and common in many localities.


We used a nest box that measured 600mm x 270mm x 270mm. These nest boxes were large enough in cross- section for the parents and two or three young to be comfortable. The entrance was 100mm in diameter. Coarse wood shavings were put in the nest to the depth of 100mm. The parents chewed these shavings and reduced most to coarse sawdust size. The pairs also tended to “modify” the entrance hole. In our case nest inspection was only done once a week. Each time we came to inspect the nest the males would make so much noise that most of the females would come out of the nests making nest inspection easy. However, two of the females would immediately go back into their nests and aggressively defend the eggs or babies. This meant that one had to be very careful that the eggs and babies were not damaged and injured.

Although as a specie the Yellow-collared Macaw is easy to breed, not all pairs breed readily, but we did get a baby for virtually every fertilized egg. We found that one pair bred regularly and more than once a year. Another pair would regularly raise two babies per year, while a third pair would raise three babies a year for a year or two and then skip a year. The other two pairs bred very irregularly.

I believe that by retaining the babies from the free breeding pairs and swopping out these babies for babies from other breeders who also have free breeding pairs, aviculturists would be able to establish some excellent free breeding pairs over a period of five or six years.


Because these macaws occur in a broad range of habitats they are very adaptable when it comes to diet. This makes them much easily to feed in captivity than a specialist feeder like the Red-bellied macaw which tends to feed almost exclusively on the fruits of the Mauritia palm in the wild (Foreshaw). We fed our mini macaws in the same way that we fed our medium sized parrots like Amazons and African Greys. This diet worked well for us and it was easy for the feeding staff. The diet consisted of our cooking mix – three different varieties of peas, yellow maize, and a small amount of wheat. To this was added 20% by weight of Avi-Plus Parrot/Parakeet supplement and 20% by weight chopped vegetables. Then 20% sunflower seed was added by weight of the total mix. We used dry sunflower seed, because of a bad experience with our staff feeding mouldy sprouted seed. However, I would rather feed sprouted mix of sunflower seed, sorghum and buckwheat, than just dry sunflower seed if the sprouting process is well controlled.

When babies hatched in the nest (we didn’t incubate any eggs but I know breeders who were very successful hatching their eggs in incubators), we would add 10% Avi-Plus Complete Breeder pellets to the softfood. We found the added protein in the breeder pellets resulted in an excellent growth rate for the babies, as well as providing them with additional vitamins, minerals and trace elements.

We removed the babies at two weeks of age for hand feeding. We found them very easy to rear and they became very tame. However, because they were all intended for breeding we kept our handling of the babies to a minimum to stop them becoming imprinted on humans.

Illigers Macaw (Ara maracana) (Foreshaw)Now known as Primolius maracana

This macaw originally had a wide distribution from north to south, below the Amazon river, on the central and eastern side of South America, mainly Brazil. Unfortunately deforestation and other habitat destruction has been especially severe in this, area and Illiger Macaws are primarily a forest specie, sometimes found on the edge of forests and in gallery forest along rivers. This means they have been badly affected by deforestation. What is very surprising is that even where there is suitable habitat their numbers appear to be diminishing. This is in spite of the fact that this specie has been on the Cities 1 list since 1994.


Fortunately the Illigers Macaw has proven to be one of the easier macaws to breed in captivity. Many aviculturists, in South Africa, who keep these mini macaws are successful in breeding them. The result has been that they are well established in aviculture in South Africa, Europe and America so aviculturists are no longer dependent on wild caught birds.

Illiger’s Macaw, Ara maracana

Their nesting requirements are much the same as those described for the Yellow-naped macaw above. Nest boxes and hollow logs with internal dimensions of approximately 600mm high and a diameter of 270mm to 300mm will usually be found to be suitable.

Illiger's Macaws

Illiger’s Macaws

Again we found that most breeders in South Africa feed their Illiger macaws in the same way as their Yellow-naped macaws, as described above. Hand rearing has been equally successful and many eggs are hatched in incubators and the babies hand reared from day 1. In Holland and Germany I was amazed to find what a variety of seeds they had in their dry seed mix. We will deal with this in the conclusions at the end of the article.

Hahn’s Macaw (Ara nobilis nobilis) (Foreshaw)
Now Diopsittaca nobilis nobilis Noble Macaw (Ara nobilis cumanensis) (Foreshaw)
Now Diopsittaca nobilis cumanensis I am going to deal with these two together as the Noble Macaw is a subspecies of the Hahn’s Macaw and in aviculture their requirements and behaviour are very much the same. However, their range in nature is separated by the Amazon River. If we look at the distribution map the Hahn’s Macaw occurs north of the Amazon River and the Noble occurs south of the Amazon River. These birds are found in a variety of habitats, but always more open savannahs and swampland with clumps of forest or palms. They seem to have benefitted by the clearing of forest as they utilise the secondary growth on the edges of the new farmland. What is interesting is that the Noble Macaw, in spite of the fact that this subspecie has a greater distribution area, is less common in aviculture. I have not found any reason for this except that the Hahn’s Macaw is found in Guyana and was probably exported in larger numbers, whereas the Noble Macaw, found largely in Brazil, was subject to the Brazilian export ban.


Most of my friends breeding Hahn’s and Noble Macaws happen to be using small nest logs and not nest boxes. I think that for the most part they have found that the nest log lasts longer than a nest box. I found that because I used nest boxes, I had to reinforce them with welded mesh wire on the inside to stop the birds chewing holes right through the sides. Generally, both these subspecies breed equally well. However, there appear to be fewer Noble Macaws available in South Africa in my experience. If I am wrong I would like to know as I have had a few inquiries about these birds recently, and it would be good to be able to give the current position of these birds in aviculture.

Because both these Macaws make

excellent pets, they are often hand reared from ten days of age, and in some cases, hatched in incubators for hand rearing. They talk well as macaws go, and are known to use words in the right context. They also socialise well and will be friendly to visitors I am told. I personally never kept one as a pet, we simply had too many birds for that.


Once more one of the reasons for the success of these macaws in aviculture is that they can be fed the same diet as the other small macaws and your medium sized parrots. I would refer the reader to the feeding of the Yellow- collared Macaws above.


One observation that I made in Holland and Germany is that breeders of parrots have different diets for the non breeding season and for the breeding season. This is something we do not give enough attention to in South Africa. In order to make feeding easier for our staff we tend to feed the same basic diet year round with a slight difference in the breeding season. This I believe is a mistake. I believe that we should have a distinct basic diet for the rest or winter season and change the diet at the onset of the breeding season.

In the Netherlands I found one could by seed mixes with twenty to thirty different varieties of seed. I don’t think we have anything like that variety of seed in South Africa. One German breeder of Mini Macaws gives his feeding in the rest season (winter) as follows: White, red and golden millets, paddy rice, white and striped sunflower seed, oats, hulled oats, buckwheat, sorghum, caraway seed, coriander seed, and pine nuts. Each pair is given just enough every morning so that they finish all the seed each day and cannot be selective. This seed mix makes up about 60% of the daily diet. The remaining 40% consists of apple, carrots, zucchini, peppers, green mealies, cucumber and grapes. Dandelion and chicory as well as other greens are also fed in this mix when available. Green branches are given to the macaws each week for the birds to chew on.

In the breeding season (summer) he feeds a cooking mix almost identical to that used by many breeders in South Africa, maize, peas, mung beans. This he soaks this overnight and then brings to the boil for ten minutes and then lets it stand for a while. He then mixes this with sprouted seeds from the dry seed mix. To this he then adds his supplement which in South Africa would be the equivalent to Egg food breeder or Avi-Plus parrot/parakeet.

Whew! That is a lot of work for a few pairs of birds but it does yield results thank goodness! I feel that we can achieve similar results on a larger scale without some of the variety, but in that case we must use supplementation intelligently. What we really need to consider seriously is the difference between winter and summer feeding. Our farmers already know this, so it’s time we began to apply it seriously in aviculture. It makes you think, doesn’t it!

For more great articles and up-to-date information on the keeping and breeding of pet and aviary birds see the links below:

To subscribe to the Avizandum magazine CLICK HERE

For digital copies and free app downloads of the Avizandum magazine CLICK HERE

Like Avizandum on Facebook and keep up to date with the latest information on the keeping and breeding of pet and aviary birds! CLIKE HERE TO LIKE US

Comments are closed.
%d bloggers like this: