Hyacinth Macaw 

Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus South America

Also known as hyacinthine macaw or blue macaw.

Known as the gentle giants, hyacinth macaws are highly prized for their beauty and personality. Hyacinths are the largest of all parrots with tails almost as long as their bodies. Macaws are lively boisterous birds and require generous living space.

Hyacinths are a irridescent violet-blue. They have bright yellow eye-rings and a small yellow facial patch next to the lower beak. Their beaks are large and strong for opening large nuts. The tongue has a yellow stripe. The eyes are brown. Age or sex cannot be determined by eye color. The tail is long and tapered. The undersides of the wings and tail are black.

Hyacinths have a large geographic range in tropical South America from north eastern Brazil below the Amazon river to the Pantanal of southern Brazil but are found in small isolated populations. There are 2 population major groups. The northern group live in arid scrubland in the states of Goias and Bahia. These birds are larger than the southern population and nest in cliffs.

The southern population lives in the Pantanal, a seasonal flood plain in southern Brazil. Small numbers may enter Paraguay and Bolivia. These birds nest in cavities in large trees.

Diet is principally consists of locally available nuts of a variety of palms. They eat both the outer fruity carp and the inner nut which is similar to coconut meat. These nuts are extremely hard but are easily cleaved by the powerful beak. They may feed on undigested palm nuts passed in the feces of cattle. They have also been observed feeding on molusscs. They drink fluid from unripe palm fruits. Hyacinths co-exist well with human habitat modifications if not hunted and can be seen around pasture land with scattered palm trees. They usually fly in pairs or small family groups but sometimes in flocks of up to 25 birds.

Length 36-40 inches. Weight 1100-1550 gm
Macaws are not as long lived as cockatoos. The life span of hyacinths is not precisely known but is probably around 50 years. Breeding age is up to approximately 30-35 years. A 40 year old Ara macaw shows definite signs of aging. A 50 year old Ara macaw is very old. Breeding age for hyacinth macaws is approximately 6-10 years old.

Personality - Young hand-raised hyacinths are gentle and typically easily handled by many people. They can have problems with initial adaptation however and should be allowed ample time to become accustomed to their new home. They should be socialized and exposed to a variety of experiences (veterinary visits, other pets, visitors, wing and nail trims, car rides, etc.) at a young age to avoid fearful behavior. Macaws can make excellent pets, especially Hyacinths. Hyacinths are very loud as well as destructive. While some speak, most macaws have limited ability to mimic. They are particularly animated and comical in their movements. Macaws are very intelligent and relatively easy to train. They are a favorite for shows and trick training.

Activities - Hyacinths are playful and love to chew. They should always be provided with toys, especially wooden blocks that can be chewed, and branches from non-toxic trees. In order to ensure safety companion macaws should not be allowed unsupervised freedom in the home as they often encounter toxins or dangerous items. Young macaws should be socialized to many people and exposed to a variety of situations such as new cages, toys, visits to the veterinarian, handling by friends, wing and nail clips, etc. to avoid fear of novel situations.

Dietary needs - All macaws need plenty of energy for good health. Their natural foods, palm nuts are rich in oils, and calories. Macaws should be fed a formulated (pelleted or extruded diet) as a basis for good nutrition. The diet should be supplemented with fresh fruits and vegetables daily to add variety and psychological enrichment. Feed approximately ¾ cup of Kaytee Exact, especially the large size-chunky. Also offer 3/4 cup of fresh fruits and vegetables. Give 5-10 nuts daily as treats. The best nuts are macadamias, walnuts, pecans, almonds, and filberts. Peanuts and Brazil nuts should be cracked and inspected for mold or contamination prior to feeding. Hyacinths tend to become almost “addicted” to nuts. Over time eating nuts almost exclusively will lead to poor health. A small amount of high fat seeds should also be provided. Vitamin supplements are not needed for birds that are eating a formulated diet.

Hyacinths are very difficult and problematic to hand feed from a very early age. Handfeeding hyacinths should not be attempted by the novice. If possible, allow the parents to feed the chicks for a few weeks. They require a high fat, high protein diet at a young age. They tend to grow best when fed specialized home-made diets. Ground nuts, seeds and vegetables an vegetable oils can be used to increase the fat and protein levels of the diet.
Transferring a hyacinth prior to weaning carries with it an inherent risk of problems, even for experienced hand feeders. Health problems will often occur after a transfer due to the stress of drastic environmental change.

Identification - All companion and breeding birds should be individually identified to assist in recovery if lost and assist in maintenance of medical and genealogical records. Many breeders apply closed legs bands when chicks are young. Only special stainless steel bands should be used on hyacinths as they can easily crush aluminum bands. While they present a slight risk of entrapment closed bands are preferable to no identification, especially for breeding birds. Microchips, which can be implanted into the muscle or under the skin, are a reliable means of identification but require electronic readers to verify identification. Tattoos may be used but often fade or become illegible with time. Foot prints may have some application in identification.

Grooming - Routine bathing or showering is vital to maintaining good plumage and skin condition. Birds can be misted and allowed to dry in a warm room or in the sun, or dried with a blow drier. An ideal way to bathe macaws is to put them in a cage outside, sprinkle them with the hose, and allow them to dry in the sun. Macaws are strong fliers. Most of the primary flight feathers (10 feathers closest to the tip of the wing) should be clipped to prevent flight. Clip only enough so the bird will glide to the floor.

Sexing - Macaw species show no obvious sexual dimorphism (visual difference between the species) therefore endoscopic examination (Surgical sexing) or laboratory sexing techniques are needed for accurate sex determination. Males are usually larger and have larger heads.

Housing - Macaws are very active and should be provided the largest cage that space and budget allows. Macaws MUST be allowed space to fully extend their wings or muscle atrophy will occur rendering them unable to fly. As macaws are strong chewers, durable cage construction is very important. Many are also adept at opening cage latches. Locks or escape proof latches may be necessary on cages.

Ideally pet macaws can also have a large cage outdoors for bathing and exercise.

Breeding – Hyacinth macaws are bred regularly in captivity but are relatively difficult to breed. The breeding season in North America is usually in late spring and early summer, although some pairs will breed almost year round. Clutch size is usually 2-3 eggs but sometimes more. Incubation period is average 26.5 days (25-28 days).

Additional nuts, palm nuts, coconuts and high fats seeds, like sunflower seed, should be added to the diet during the breeding season to stimulate reproduction. Inexperienced hand feeders should allow the parents to feed for the first few weeks.

Nest Box - Large horizontal wooden boxes (approx. 24”x24”x 36”or 48”) are well accepted by large macaws while some will breed well in a vertical wooden box. Large palm trunks or hollow logs, or whisky barrels may be used. Additional wood for chewing should be provided inside the nest box. Macaws should be provided with plentiful chewing material. Pine shavings make excellent nest box bedding.

Cage size - Macaws must be able to open their wings without touching the sides of their breeding cage (wing span is approximately 3-3.5 feet) and should have adequate space to move freely between 2 perches. Example of appropriate suspended cage size for hyacinth macaws is 6’ x 6’ x 12’, although larger is better. Cages should be suspended 3-4 feet above the ground. Large flights built on the ground also work well in some climates.

Cages for large macaws must be constructed of strong wire, which can withstand chewing. Ten gauge welded wire, 1” x 1”, 1” x 3” or 2” x 4” works well for most pairs. Chain link may be needed for pairs that break welded wire caging. ½” x 3” is very easily broken by hyacinths. Heavy hogs rings are also needed for cage construction.

When breeding hyacinth macaws, noise and proximity to neighbors must be considered.

Mate aggression is uncommon in macaws. Pair bonds are strong but not necessarily life long.

Common diseases and disorders

  • Proventricular Dilatation Disease (Macaw wasting disease)
  • Feather picking
  • Chewing flight and tail feathers by juveniles
  • Psittacosis (chlamydophila infection)
  • Bacterial, viral and fungal infections
  • Beak malformations - chicks
  • Pancreatitis
  • Kidney Disease - gout
  • Toxicity, heavy metal poisoning
  • Lipomas in older birds
  • Ear infections

Many common health problems of macaws can be prevented by good diet, nutrition and routine health care. Routine veterinary examination (annually) can help you to keep your pet in excellent health and enhance your relationship with your bird.

Conservation status – Vulnerable to endangered – Hyacinth macaws are listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Fauna and Flora. Wild populations have declined due to trade and habitat loss. The wild population was estimated at 3,000 in 1992. The captive population is probably larger. Hyacinths are fairly common in captivity. Many collections maintain several pairs. They are relatively difficult to breed in captivity although some individual pairs are very prolific.