Name: Blue and Yellow Macaw
Scientific Name: Ara ararauna
Weight Range: 890-1300gm
Breeding Age in Captivity: 3-4 years
Clutch Size: 3-4 eggs
Incubation Period: 26-28 days
Fledging Age: 14-18 weeks
The Blue and Gold is a large macaw with medium blue on the back, yellow on the front and darker blue—almost cobalt on the primaries, and a bar of black directly under the lower mandible. Some green is situated on the forecrown which fades into blue on the head. The large, white bare skin on the facial area is marked with thin lines of black feathers above and below the eye. The beak is black and the feet are dark grey. Juveniles have darker, undefined eyes, usually dark grey—once mature, the iris is pale yellow. The plumage of juvenile birds is usually duller than that of the adults.
IN THE WILD
The Blue and Gold Macaw can be found in the wild throughout Central and South America, its distribution ranging from as far north as Panama, to as far south as northern Argentina. Throughout its range, the Blue and Gold Macaw remains fairly common despite its heavy collection for the pet and breeder trade. Forshaw (1989) reported that its decline or absence in many accessible areas may be due to habitat destruction and trapping. Although the Blue and Gold Macaw is the most commonly found large macaw in the wild, someday it may become quite rare in areas where human populations are expanding. The habitat of many species is undergoing change and some populations may die out or move to more suitable feeding and breeding areas. Since 1992, the USA has taken a bold step towards resolving this problem by discontinuing the importation of this species from the wild. Other countries have started to take steps to reduce the number of birds being taken from their natural habitat, but more needs to be done. Despite its high reproductive rate, this species cannot sustain itself indefinitely with the number of birds that are being captured for local and international pet and breeder trade. Legislation that prohibits importation for the pet market and restricts the number of imported birds each year for breeding purposes is required. Such measures need to be put in place as soon as possible in countries where they are not already governed. The need to remove more Blue and Gold Macaws from the wild has been greatly reduced in the past years. This is due partly to its adaptation to captivity and its prolific nature in a captive environment. It has been documented that some pairs can produce up to a dozen or more offspring in a single season. Globally, the price of Blue and Gold Macaws has fallen to a point where it may actually be less expensive to buy captive-bred birds than to import wild-caught birds. Exporting birds from the USA is not difficult, and this trade in captive-bred birds has a very positive impact on the conservation of wild birds of the same species. This species has been introduced to the island nation of Trinidad where it is breeding freely in the wild. The translocation of these birds was undertaken because it was rumoured that Blue and Gold Macaws were once indigenous to the island. A few pairs have also been reported flying free and breeding in Miami, Florida. There is no population data on these introduced birds, and they are difficult to locate if they exist at all.
Although there are no official geographical variations reported for this species, several aviculturists claim that there are two, possibly three forms of A. ararauna. For example, some claim that birds from Brazil are larger and others claim that those from the Guianas have a lighter yellow on the chest area. We disagree with these attempts to classify this species into several forms, especially geographical colour forms (Jordan pers. comm.) Furthermore, the pairing and breeding of two ‘lighter coloured’ birds always results in offspring that are similar to the parent birds. On second generation breeding, one light bird bred to one darker bird results in a mixture of light and dark chicks. Therefore, it is our contention that the colour forms of this species are, in reality, a dominant genetic trait, and not a geographical colour form. Juniper and Parr (1998) also state that there are no geographical variations to this species, and there are no breakout subspecies listed under the current nomenclature by IUCN. Often, when a group of birds in one area seem to have a more ‘turquoise’ colour to the blue, it is due to a local food source they have been feeding on. Following a few months on a captive diet the general colouration reverts to normal. Much of the variation seen in these birds is a function of the age, amount of sunlight received, nutrition, or genetic characteristics that have been selectively bred in captivity.
The Blue and Gold Macaw is one of the easiest macaw species to breed in captivity. They are prolific breeders and make excellent avicultural subjects. Several generations have now been produced in many countries including the USA, South Africa and Australia. The demand for this species has remained high, although prices have dropped dramatically since the early 1990s. Blue and Gold Macaws make good companion birds for those who can handle large birds and they are common in the pet trade in the USA. They are becoming more freely available in Japan and Australia, including several high-priced colour mutations. The original popularity of this species may be due to the abundance of wild-caught birds that were captured and imported into the USA during the 1980s and other consumer countries that continue to allow imports today. Records for the USA indicate that in the boom years more than 30 000 Blue and Gold Macaws may have been imported. Of course not all of these birds would have remained in the USA as some were re-exported to other countries where it was not legal to import from range countries. Blue and Gold Macaws are very hardy birds. Even those captured in the wild and transported were usually healthy, resilient birds. In captivity, there are a growing number of mutations of the Blue and Gold Macaw. This is to be expected as this species has responded well to captive breeding efforts. At the time of publication, the known mutations are NSL Lutino (aka Recessive Yellow), ‘Cinnamon’, Blue, Opaline (sex-linked recessive), Greygreen, Pied and a mutation dubbed ‘Golden’. All these mutations are very expensive and are still in the stages of being established in captivity. The ‘Cinnamon-type’ mutation that appeared in US aviculture in the 1980s is recessive in inheritance. A second cinnamon-looking mutation has been produced and the inheritance mode has not yet been determined—it may be a ‘Dilute’. The recessive Blue mutation results in a blue and white colouration. The stunning NSL Lutino was first seen in the breeding of two males, and other yellow females and males have been produced from the same ‘normal-looking’ parent stock. Another mutation being bred in South America is described as a ‘Grey (or Black) and Gold’ Macaw—it is possibly a Greygreen mutation. The Pied and Greygreen mutations require further investigation.
Probably one of the best macaws for adaptability to the pet bird environment. On a scale of 1-10, where 10 is the perfect pet for anyone, the Blue and Gold rates an 8. Plucking can be a problem with any ‘bored’ pet bird, but this species tends to have less feather problems than most of the other species.
Captive birds exhibit a gentle nature and are generally not aggressive towards each other or other pets in the household.
Pet owners often report that Blue and Gold Macaws, kept for several years as a pet, mimic many words and short phrases. They tend to be easy to train and can be trained to repeat a word or phrase on demand.
All macaws can be noisy—there is no doubt of that. Blue and Gold Macaws are not known to be the loudest or the most insistent screamers unless they are answering the calls of another bird. Most are reported to be quiet and content to play alone when provided with good enrichment.
An unusual regard surrounds breeding this species. Most breeders, even seasoned biologists in Brazil or other areas of the natural habitat, report this species to be difficult to breed in captivity. However, the Blue and Gold is probably the most commonly kept and bred macaw in the USA and Canada. In fact, they are so reliable that they are often used as surrogates to hatch and parent-rear more difficult species, such as the Hyacinth Macaw. As with any breeding macaws, they can be very defensive of the nest when eggs or chicks are present and must be provided respect and privacy. They do not seem to mind other pairs of captive birds in the nearby environment.
FOOD For Macaws
In the wild, most macaws, including blue-and-gold macaws, eat a variety of seeds, plant material, fruits, and nuts.
Captive blue and gold macaws should get a varied diet consisting of as many different types of fresh fruits and vegetables as possible. The bird should also get a high-quality pelleted diet with some healthy seeds, such as flax, hemp, and chia. Avoid many nut treats; these are high in fat.
The prolific breeding capacity of the Blue and Gold Macaw and its adaptability to most situations makes it a great companion bird. Their large size makes it inhumane to cage them in small, cramped quarters. Larger cages also enable the viewer to appreciate these birds in their ‘true colours’ in dramatic flight. Blue and Gold Macaws love to display their aggression when they finally decide to breed. They will hang on the sides of their cage and hold their wings open, exposing the gold undersides to the keeper. They will vocalise in high-pitched shrills and dilate their eyes in an attempt to scare anyone away. Blue and Gold Macaws will blush, but usually not out of anger as seen in Military and Buffon’s Macaws. It always amuses us to see well-bonded pairs of Blue and Gold Macaws interacting. They will grab each other by the beak and rapidly pump their heads up and down. Often when approached, they will actually ‘hold hands’ as they perform this mock-feeding demonstration.