Parrot tales

The world’s most colourful parrots, macaws are prized possessions, writes Thakur Paramjit.

Blue and yellow macaw
Blue and yellow macaw

Since the early 16th century, macaws, the native of America, have been considered prized possessions.

Members of the Psittacidae family, parrots can be classified into different groups, known by names like parakeets, lovebirds, cockatoos, lories and macaws. Macaws can be divided into as many as 17 species.

Boasting of royal blue wings, with a touch of green, the three-foot-long red and green macaws give a regal look. Its slimmer cousin, the scarlet macaw, has dark-blue wings embedded on its yellow shoulders while the blue and yellow macaw has turquoise and gold plumage. Similarly, other species distinguish themselves by their size and colour of plumage.

The biggest member of the group, the hyacinth macaw lives in Brazil and Bolivia and enjoys the distinction of being the largest parrot of the present-day world. Measuring 100 cm, it is three times larger than its smallest cousin, the red-shouldered macaw, which measures just 30 cm. Tropical forests from central Mexico to northern Argentina form the home of these intelligent birds. Their tails are as large as their bodies. The life span of a macaw living as a pet ranges from 50 to 70 years while its wild brethren live for 30 to 45 years.

Macaws live in families comprising parents and their juveniles. They exhibit strong family ties and preen each other for long hours. They are equipped with powerful beaks, capable of biting strongly and thick muscular tongues. These beautiful creatures feed on various kinds of fruit. Nurturing unique eating habits, they prefer to eat the seed instead of the pulp of a fruit. Nature has attributed slightly different eating preferences to different species to avoid fierce competition for food.

The macaws prefer a breakfast of clay. One can see a riot of colour when the morning sun basks earth in its golden glow and groups of macaws descend on clay licks to have their breakfast. Charles Munn, who conducted a study of macaws, says they eat clay as it is high in salts and minerals, which these birds may not get from their primary vegetarian diet. He also ascribes the habit as a means of neutralising toxic effects of certain food items of macaws.

Red and green macaw
Red and green macaw

They have developed their unique ways of defence against predators. When one is spotted, a loud warning is emitted and the flock takes to wings. This is common to other birds too. But then comes the act of bravery and unique defence strategy. Eight to 10 macaws hover above the predator and emit strong shrill calls from close quarters. Since the predator is trained to catch its prey by diving, it cannot catch a bird flying just above its head and so it abandons the idea and flies away.

Since macaws live in tropical forests with tall and thick trees, nature has provided them with strong leg muscles and a strong beak. Its toe has four claws — two facing towards the front and two towards the back. The above devices enable it to reach remote sports on a tree either by moving sideways or hanging upside down on one foot, to procure food.

They make their nest in a hole in a nearly 100-foot tall tree. Males and females look alike. Mating in December, the female lays two eggs and incubates them for one month.

During this period, the male brings food for her by storing it in his throat pouch, and regurgitates it into her mouth. The chick takes three to four months to venture out of the nest and undertake its first. It will take him many days to become an expert, who will fly at 30 km per hour.

These gorgeous birds are a delight to watch whether they fly in a stately manner among the tall trees or exhibit their prowess as a pet.