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Are Macaws and Cockatoos good pets?

Small to Medium size Birds. Hawks, Owls, Chicken, Ducks, Finches, Parrots Etc.

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Laughing Hyena
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Are Macaws and Cockatoos good pets?

Postby Laughing Hyena » Thu Jan 30, 2014 11:24 pm

I've been thinking about getting either a Macaw or a Cockatoo I'm leaning more towards a Red Macaw because I like the colors on them.
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Re: Are Macaws and Cockatoos good pets?

Postby Nìmwey » Fri Jan 31, 2014 7:00 am

Well... that depends on your definition of a "good pet".
In my mind, and I've owned both, they're not pets at all. They're really just wild animals that you may have in your home, on their terms.

Similar to what Rexano's Scott Shoemaker (owner of big cats and wolves) said about tigers, "If your definition of 'pet' is something you throw food at and it's nice and docile... okay then, that's not a tiger", and I can say the same thing about large psittacines.

* They are LOUD. I cannot emphasize this enough. Loud loud loud.
Like this loud: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JRnLPDcLGHs
If you have close neighbors - not a good idea. :icon-wink:
If you're lucky, you get one that only screams for short moments a few times a day. If you're less lucky, you get one (especially the 'toos) that can scream for hours just because it loves its own voice. :P

* They need lots of space. Especially the macaws.
Don't buy the "they are climbing birds" thing some people say, yes, they are not albatrosses or condors, but they can, do and need to fly. Some individuals may like flying less and climbing/walking more, but you'll know that when you have them. You might just as well end up with one who loves nothing more than flying, and it's very frustrating to see them enclosed in a small space.
A house, unless it has really large rooms, is in this case a small space. :icon-wink:
The ideal scenario is an outdoor aviary, even if it's only part of the time.
An indoor cage should for a large cockatoo be at least 6' wide, and for a large macaw probably at least 7-8'. (My Scarlet's cage was 8'4" wide, 52" deep, and about as tall as can be in a normal room, but still minimum.)

* They of course live very long lives, like tortoises. 50+ years with good care.
This is a longer life than almost any other commonly kept animal, and then tortoises like I mentioned, are not nearly as demanding or difficult to care for. :P

* They are extremely social animals. I cannot emphasize this enough either.
Most people want some alone time. Most dogs and cats can do well as an only pet and be left alone for a few hours per day. Parrots want to be with their flock 24/7, and are of course not domesticated at all. I'm ashamed of having my Meyer's alone, but she's ten years old now (I was only twelve when I got her), and I doubt she would accept any other bird now. I was planning to get the macaw a mate but it didn't happen as I ended up not being able to keep even him. (Never again large parrots as indoor "pets" for me. Outdoors in aviaries, fine, but I can't stand them long-term in a home environment.)

So, keeping at least two is best, as you'll have a very hard time giving a lone bird the company it needs. Just beware that white cockatoos can be extremely aggressive when being put together with other birds. You should go gradually, so it can take maybe a year before they share the same cage. (Probably shorter if they're both females.)

* Then there are other things, like a varied diet, LOTS of toys and enrichment (they are also among the most intelligent animals on the planet, together with or right after apes, dolphins, elephants and corvids), and plenty of perches to chew.

They are also very emotionally sensitive. White cockatoos and african greys are at the top of the list of birds with a tendency to pluck feathers (especially bad cases, at least among 'toos, can even self-mutilate and chew up their own skin and flesh), macaws second place. They don't do well with change, boredom, unstable routines or -household, and there are many other reasons birds may pluck. But there is also the question of individual personality there, and how the bird was raised. In short: Parent-raised birds (and ironically, wild-caught ones) do better in captivity than hand-raised ones. Their development gets stunted easily if they're hand-raised, in a way most other animals aren't, since we humans don't know how to raise them in their way, and commercial hand-feeding often means the baby is weaned many months too early.

The commercial breeders often wean them at 3-5 months of age (large 'toos and macaws), while in the wild with their parents, the baby decides when it's confident enough to eat on its own (it's more about comfort and emotional maturity than about food), often at about the age of a year. Also, the baby's parents will absolutely shower it with love and affection and constant attention. Baby parrots with their parents never cry. Check videos on YouTube of baby parrots being hand-fed, and you'll find them crying their hearts (and throats) out. :icon-frown:
This is often because people believe they will "spoil" them if they give them any affection during the feeding, and because it's very much a commercial process. Instead of letting the bird eat itself from the spoon (like it would from it's parents' beaks), many push a syringe right down in its crop and pushes the food in. Do it quickly, and take them as young as possible, so the parents will make more babies = more money. And then wean them as early as possible = more money for less work.

My first cockatoo, Yondo (an Eleonora or Medium sulphur-crested), was four months old when I got him and I was told he would be weaned at four months. Instead, the breeder said when he was three months, that he's weaned and I can come get him. I still waited another month before taking him home, however (but there is something weird about this, as he still had dried formula in his feathers when I got him).
The first month was fine, but when he hit five months, he had a huge "setback". He went back to wanting to be fed like a baby, and cried non stop when he saw me, and screamed when he didn't see me. This wanted to make me tear my hair in frustration, as it went on for many weeks. I confronted the breeder about this, and he made me look like the irresponsible one, while he had sent off a baby that hadn't been properly weaned (I had been told by other breeders that it's perfectly normal to wean at four months, so I bought it hook, line and sinker).
I just tried to ignore the constant crying (which continued even as he was eating his pellets - he wanted to be fed with soft food), as I had also been told that any further baby-feeding would be "spoiling" him. :cry: I wish I had known better.
But eventually, it went away.

The macaw I got much later was parent-raised ("funnily enough" from the same breeder as Yondo, although I got him as a rehome from somewhere else) and had lived only with other parrots for his whole 2½ years of life. So he wasn't tame when I got him. I had never tamed a bird successfully before (only tried with store-bought, traumatized cockatiels when I was much younger), but I had several years experience with parrots already, so I wasn't too concerned.
I was in his cage every day, fed him from my hands, had to decide not to be scared of his big beak (he was just bluffing, and liked to "test" people to see if they would be scared of him or not). After five months (I was more scared than him and if I hadn't been, it would probably have been sooner :icon-wink:), he was fully tame and the most awesome bird I've had the honor of knowing. He treated me like another bird, with good bird-manners, so I knew what behavior to expect from him. A completely hand-raised bird doesn't know how to behave like a bird, it may not even know what it is, so it often behaves unpredictably. (The rule "don't bite the hand that feeds you" does not apply here.)

If I have to recommend one, I'd say the macaw. Less emotionally sensitive, far more predictable, no DUST (cockatoos dust like crazy), a huge beak you can hold on to :icon-wink:), and far less ADHD. (For example: I could give the macaw a piece of wood, go out of the room, come back in half an hour later, and he'd still be chewing at it and entertaining himself. The cockatoos would NEVER do that. They always needed something new fun to do.)
The only downside to a macaw is their huge wings and tail, so they need more space to fly.

Oh and another thing... someone once said, that to successfully raise a cockatoo (the same is true for all parrots, but white cockatoos are certainly the biggest challenge of them all), you need to have the creativity of Monet, the brilliance of Einstein, and the patience of a saint. :icon-wink:

Sorry... I ALWAYS get very long-winded when I talk about parrots, as it is my greatest passion. icon-smile (One that I've had to quit for now, though. icon-sad Like I said, I can't handle long-term living with them as indoor pets. Tame birds in huge outdoor aviaries would be a much better scenario for me and them.)

I'm not telling people not to get them, just to know what they're in for (even most people who think they know what they're doing, really don't), that they're not pets, not at all what some people might think, feathery dogs, cats or even hamsters, but very special, wild animals. (I use to call them dusty three year old children with a megaphone and can opener on its face, wings, and that never grow up.)
If you really have a fascination for parrots and love them for what they are (and fill the above requirements :icon-wink:), they are awesome animals.

Here he is, the macaw. He looks very grumpy and defensive in the beginning because he was scared of the new camera.
He loved to laugh for himself. :lol: I was standing behind the wall so he didn't know I was there.
Me and the big guy.
Yondo, medium sulphur-crested (Cacatua galerita eleonora), and Egon, lesser sulphur-crested (Cacatua sulphurea sulphurea).
And a video compilation I made about the cockatoos a few years ago.
My gawd I miss them all so much. :cry:
My main interest is in parrots, dogs, toothed whales and snakes.
Future animals I want to have when we have land are camels, wolfdogs/wolves, coyotes or jackals, striped hyena or aardwolf. Also poultry, rabbits water buffalo and/or yak for livestock.
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Re: Are Macaws and Cockatoos good pets?

Postby Ash » Fri Jan 31, 2014 12:11 pm

Another great resource is Birdtricks.com. They have a lot of instructional videos and info on their website. They're professional bird trainers and have a lot of great tips for keeping birds happy and healthy. They stress a lot about bird psychology, and it's really interesting how differently they think compared to dogs and cats.

Diet is something that they stress--almost all commercial diets are not good for birds like macaws and cockatoos. Anything that is a seed-based diet, is bad, and it contributes to a lot of the moodiness most people deal with. It's like if the only thing you ever ate was chocolate they say. So parrots can be expensive to feed since a lot goes into diet preparation.

I REALLY wanted a macaw last year. What turned me away was the lifespan. 50+ years, as Nimwey said, but a healthy, well-taken-care-of one is going to live to be way older than that. It would most likely outlive you. I think the best thing would be to adopt an older one (20 or 30 yr old one) that is being rehomed in your area, that has a good temperament. Not very easy to come by, especially one in good feather.

I won't lie, most bird rescues are veeeery elitist too, and are ridiculous when it comes to placing their birds. While going through a rescue can be a great, rewarding experience, it can also be a major pain.

The other thing that most people don't know, is that there are many things that are deadly to birds. Like teflon, for example. My plan was to build a flight cage out of chain link, but I can't do that because the galvanized stuff on the metal is also toxic to a bird. So the only option you have are super expensive cages made solely for birds. You can't really use any generic material.

According to Birdtricks, you can curb the screaming. They really promote clicker-training your bird and using food as a reward by only feeding them in the morning and at night, and then taking their food away all other times (nothing sits overnight in the bowl). So they talk about rewarding your bird for being quiet. If it's sitting there, very well behaved, you click and feed. If it isn't, then no click, no food. Parrots are extremely intelligent animals, so they pick up on it sooner than you think they would.

I believe clipping a bird's wings is personal choice. I would never do it, because like Nimwey said, flying is very important for them and is a great way for them to exercise. If you're serious about a bird, something you MAY want to look into is free-flight. Free-flight is VERY controversial in the bird community, but if done with proper training, can be a fun, rewarding experience for both you and the bird. So if that's something that interests you, be sure to look into the pros and cons of that. ;)

Anyway, thought I'd put in my two-cents. I've never owned a parrot, but I did a bunch of research, so figured I'd share what I'd learned.
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Re: Are Macaws and Cockatoos good pets?

Postby Nicophorus » Fri Jan 31, 2014 12:31 pm

Good posts. I have several parrots (greys, eclectus, conures, amazons). I wont be satisfied until I've enclosed my back porch/lanai with zoomesh or something similar and turn it into a big open bird room. Yes I feel very guilty everytime I pass by my birds in their cages.

If you don't clip wings (I no longer do) you MAY lose a bird. I had a grey fly off a few months ago, never found him. I'd always have some sort of double security with flighted birds. I.E. if they are in cages, make sure those cages are also in a house/room/whatever. If they are in a big aviary, make sure you have a double door system to ensure they can't follow/fly out after you.

Its hard to give parrots the amount of attention some of them want. If you are like me and do not have enough time for them, you owe it to them to give them the most room and enrichment as you can, WITH other birds as companionship.

Birds are wild, but they also social and smart. They can make good pets, and I'm positive make way better pets then a lot of other exotics.

Also the breeding of parrots in captivity has or will absolutely save some of them from extinction. Just read up on how small the flocks are now in the wild on some of them. Now just think of laws were passed forbidding private ownership of them..... yeah they will be extinct soon as the last 500 acres of habitat in the wild is converted to palm oil plantation or whatever. Something to think about.
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Re: Are Macaws and Cockatoos good pets?

Postby Ash » Fri Jan 31, 2014 12:45 pm

I didn't realize you owned birds, Nicophorous. That's really neat.

I'm not against the breeding at all--like you said, it keeps the species alive and varied. I just have a personal fear of something outliving me. Maybe most people don't share that same fear, lol.
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