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 Hyacinth Macaws

Hyacinth Macaws
Highly Regarded Companion Parrots

David Jeffrey on outside perch

On This Page:

About My Buddy, David Jeffrey

David Jeffrey is my captive-bred Hyacinth Macaw. He was hatched in 1994 and came to live with me a couple of months after weaning.

Before I go on with my story about David I'd like to make a point. My experience is with one Hyacinth so I'm reluctant to describe him as being typical of his kind. He may be, but I can't verify it.

David is a great companion with a good disposition and an abundance of affection. I believe the best way to describe him is half-macaw, half-cockatoo. I admit that I'm prejudiced, but I think he's a combination of the best of both types of birds.

Hyacinth Macaws are sensitive creatures and in that respect David is typical of his kind.  Just picture a large, sensitive and affectionate baby-huey type that loves to play tickle games and then cuddle like a Cockatoo. In fact, he wants to snuggle more often than my Cockatoos do and is just as loving when he gets the chance. I should also mention that David loves to ride on my shoulder.  It is almost impossible to be anywhere near David without him trying is best to hop aboard.

Snuggling is not all David wants to do. He likes playing hide-and-seek games and will come looking for me if I disappear. He loves to be tickled on different parts of his body and screams in delight imitating the sounds I make as we play.  He gets very excited and that natural grin seems to widen during our playtime. His eyes sure twinkle, anyway.

Picture of a Hyacinth Macaws head

Speaking of eyes ... aren't Hyacinth eyes incredible?  Everyone raves about the brilliant cobalt blue color of their feathers -- rightly so!  But what dazzles me are those "Hyacinth eyes". They are spectacular and gleam with intelligence ... and maybe a little mischief, too.

Without any doubt David is happiest riding around on my shoulder.  I think this may be typical of well-socialized companion Hyacinths.  Hyacinth Macaws are very social in the wild and this need to be close may be instinctual. Being such a large bird allows David to reach out and grab on to me for a ride even when he hasn't been invited. So it isn't unusual to find him on my shoulder if I come within his long reach.  He will also walk to where I'm standing and tug on my pant leg for a lift up to my shoulder. Frankly, I think he would be content to live on my shoulder if I'd let him.

Two baby Hyacinth Macaws under a blanket after having a bath

As I mentioned, David came to live with me when he was about 9 months old.  It is commonly agreed that Hyacinth Macaws should be raised with a sibling or another macaw.  It is an important part of their development and socialization.  David was raised that way as you can see by the photo of him with his brother peeking out from under a light-weight baby blanket after having a bath.

Two young Hyacinth Macaws playing with toys on a playstand

The two Hyacinth Macaw chicks had as much care and nurturing as it is possible to give during the important hand feeding and weaning process. I'm sure grateful for the care they received because I'm able to enjoy the rewards of a well-socialized avian companion.

After living with David for a month or so it dawned on me that one day this sweet young Macaw would grow up into a very powerful parrot.  Hyacinth Macaws, as you may know, are the largest parrot species in the world and capable of enormous beak strength.  What would David's personality and disposition be like as an adult bird? Even as a baby he was bigger than my other Macaws. In the past I was told that Hyacinth Macaws have the crushing capacity of 600 lbs./sq inch. Yikes!  I don't know if that is true, but it made me think about an adult Hyacinth's ability to do serious damage.  It is a fact that 30% of a Hyacinth's muscles are in their head.  Considering the size of a Hyacinth's head and beak they are obviously capable of enormous crushing power.  Now, as a mature Macaw, David can hold my entire wrist in is beak.

Hyacinth Macaw pair in their nest box

So what should I do to plan for the future?  I decided to teach David a word that would mean "let go" when his beak was around my fingers.  Beginning when he was very young, I used the word "open" to teach him to release beak pressure and stop what he was doing. It has worked well. He understands what the word "open" means and he continues to be gentle when he plays. Since he can hold my entire wrist in his beak I'm glad that he lives up to the Hyacinth Macaws' reputation of being the gentle giants of the parrot world. Actually, David is so gentle that I can only imagine being hurt by him accidentally, such as an instinctual reaction to something that might frighten him. I've lived with him for enough years to trust that he wouldn't hurt me intentionally.

David is an amazingly quick learner. Shortly after bringing him home I realized how curious he was about everything. Curiosity is typical for parrots because of their intelligence and David was no exception. Perhaps my point about David might be better understood if I explain how quickly he learned to talk.

Hyacinth Macaw showing curiosity

David's First Word.  One day after bringing him home I was exchanging food and water dishes in his cage.  He came very close to check out his water dish.  Noticing how curious he was I held the water dish under his beak thinking he might want a drink.  Holding the dish I repeated the word "water" three or four times.  He turned his eye to the dish and stared at it very intently.  He looked back at me and then back at the dish and touched the water with his tongue.  Much to my astonishment he looked up at me (eye to eye) and repeated the word "water" very clearly, as a question ... as if he were asking if it really was water. Frankly, I don't think I would have believed it if I hadn't witnessed it. Today he continues to say "water" and then "uummmm goooood" when a dish comes his way.  Over the years he has expanded the "water" label to his food dish also ... calling food "water". The water dish experience is an example of how he has learned some of his vocabulary ... that is, by association with something he is doing or is interested in.  He also has picked up words he hears from the birds he lives with.

It's my understanding that Hyacinth Macaws are considered to be poor talkers.  I won't say that David has a perfect speaking voice but he does a pretty good job.  David's vocabulary is limited compared to a bird who is a gifted talker.  But, honestly, I've been so amazed by his ability to speak.

Here is a list of some of the things he enjoys saying all the time:

  • David
  • Hello - said with several different inflections depending on his emotion at the moment.
  • Hi - he only says "Hi" in a whisper ... and it's pretty endearing.
  • Hi, Boo Boo
  • Peek-a-Boo
  • 'Night, 'Night - he never fails to say this at the end of the day when he knows the lights will soon go out.
  • Bye, Bye
  • WOW!
  • I Love You - he learned this phrase one word at a time.
  • How does the duck go? - followed lby a bunch of quacking.  He learned this phrase from Rodney, my Greenwing.
  • Rock-a-Bye David - he says the first words of this lullaby substituting his own name for "baby".
  • Knock It Off - when the rest of the flight crew he lives with are having a scream-fest I'll hear him above the din telling everyone to "knock it off".  I bet you can guess who he learned that from.
  • Fly - He loves to hang on the side of his cage and flap his wings while saying "fly" repeatedly.  Actually, what he says is more like "fwy" where the "L" becomes a "W".  It is really funny the way he says it.  If I walk fast or jog with him on my shoulder he'll spread his wings slightly saying "fwy" as we run around together.
  • Hop - David loves to hop.  He will hop like a rabbit on any flat surface making about 3 to 4 jumps in a row.  He repeats the word "hop", "hop", "hop" as he jumps around.
  • Water - Sometimes when I bring his food bowls he'll say "water" as a question, as if he were asking if it is water (or food) that he is getting.
  • Ummmm! - as in "ummmm good".
  • Good - David says "good" when his food dish contains a favorite food, or if he is hungry and has been waiting to eat.
  • Rodney - The name of my Greenwing Macaw.

David's cage is a little larger than a typical macaw cage -- measuring 5 feet wide x 4.6 feet deep and 5 feet high.  He only stays in it at night.  During the day he has access to the outside of his cage and his playstand and sometimes the bird room he lives in.  The room is "bird proof" ... containing lots of playtime activity centers, but nothing the birds can get hurt by or nothing they shouldn't destroy.  David's cage is elevated off the floor so that he cannot leave the exterior of his cage or playstand if I don't want him wandering around the room by himself.  So that is where he spends most of his day.

David is not a chewer like most birds are. That may surprise some people because with that beak he could really dismantle anything he wanted to. However, his softer wood toys don't last very long if he has a mind to chew on them.  David seems to prefer plastic objects like Chomping Chains.  And he loves large stainless steel bells and has several hanging throughout his environment.  I hang the bells on Chomping Chains which is a good combination to keep him entertained.  He has turned one of his bells into a "buddy".  I'll discover him resting next to the bell with it under his wing.  I suspect being non-destructive is not typical of Hyacinth Macaws.  I've heard stories of how they can snap the welds on their cages.  Stainless steel cages are recommended for Hyacinth Macaws because of that. David's cage is made of high-strength aviary wire and it has worked extremely well for him.  He has never tried to chew on or destroy his cage.  The wire of his cage is 1" x 1".  The 1" opening is small and would be difficult, in my opinion, for him to grasp the wire in a way to tear through it.  However, as I mentioned David is not inclined to be destructive and I would not be able to provide an opinion whether that type of environment would be acceptable for a destructive Hyacinth. However, I think it is worth noting that many breeding Hyacinths are kept in outside environments in warmer climates. Those environments are often made of high strength aviary-type wire, so perhaps that is a dependable material in which to house a Hyacinth. Anyone wishing to provide suitable housing for a Hyacinth should do thorough research before making the investment in a quality environment.  If an aviary-type environment is desired I might suggest checking out these attractive indoor and outdoor aviaries.

David has a quirky habit about taking food from my hand.  Unlike my other Macaws who are quick to take any food or treat offered, David is cautious. For whatever reason, he feels it is necessary to proceed slowly and uses his tongue to taste-touch anything offered ... except for his very favorite foods, like macadamia nuts. Making the decision to take the food may take a minute or so.  During this time he'll look at the food, taste-touch it, and then look at me as if waiting for encouragement or approval that the food is okay. Rather than being a quirky habit perhaps his caution is another example of his intelligence. My other Macaws (Blue/Gold and Greenwing) will instantly take anything handed to them. If they don't want it they'll drop it. That is smart, too ... since they aren't taking the risk of missing anything good.

David was weaned on a wide variety of food and continues to be fed that way.  However, he is rather selective in what he chooses to eat ... becoming more selective as the years have passed.  He favors nuts which is expected because plam nuts are the primary diet of Hyacinth Macaws in the wild.  He also gets pellets (which he eats sparingly), fresh fruit (which he likes), fresh vegetables (accepted a little less enthusiastically than fruit) ... a variety of healthy foods.  He also gets some red palm oil spread on toasted bread mixed in with his daily variety of fresh food. In the evening he gets a snack ... consisting of a ration of macadamia nuts in the shell (his very favorite), almonds (which he isn't too crazy about but will eat), brazil nuts and pistachios (more favorites), filberts, walnuts (given only after being carefully checked for spoilage). I don't feed peanuts because they are known to habor aspergillus. This fungus (or mold) is responsible for aspergillosis respiratory illness in parrots which can cause death. By the way, aspergillus is in the general environment so peanuts are not the only way this fungus often causes trouble.

Now that David is mature he's developed a jealousy of my other birds and is quick to act out.  He is most jealous of Fagan, my Moluccan Cockatoo. No doubt this is caused by the Fagan's demand for extra attention because he is very bonded to me.  David doesn't miss this and only tolerates the Moluccan getting attention for a limited time before becoming vocal about it. To be fair, the Moluccan is equally jealous of David and acts the same way.  If David's squawks for attention don't get the results he wants then he'll walk over and try to interject himself between the Moluccan and myself. The best way to spend time with my other birds is to take them to another room. David shows his displeasure when we leave but shortly gets over it and goes on with his day.

If David thinks he's being ignored he'll give a very loud squawk to let me know. For example, he'll be sitting on his playstand in my office about 4 feet away from my desk.  If I'm busy working and not paying attention to him the sound he makes gives me an unexpected jolt. It is not my first choice of a way to be reminded that David thinks he is being ignored. Is David spoiled? Perhaps.  But I really expect this "reminder" squawk has more to do with the instinctual need to feel connected socially. Occasional eye contact lessens his need to remind me that he is nearby.

Of course if David is in the mood to make bird noise it is very loud.  It isn't on the level of screeching wild Hyacinth Macaws who can be heard up to a kilometer away. But David is certainly capable of making some noise. It's interesting that even though loud, David's tone is deeper than my other macaws due most likely to his overall larger size. He is certainly much lower pitched than my Moluccan and Umbrella Cockatoos. Even though very loud, the lower pitch of David's voice makes the sound a bit more tolerable for me.

All in all, David is quite a character and his intelligence is fascinating and a joy.  He, as the rest of my birds, are loved beyond words. 

If you'd like to learn about how our avian family evolved visit My Parrot Family.  David tells the tale.

General Facts About Hyacinth Macaws

Species - Hyacinth Macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus).  One of 16 remaining species of Macaws.

Status in the Wild - Endangered

Size - Length 36 - 42 inches, Weight 1400 - 2000 gms.  Hyacinth Macaws are the largest species of Macaw and can weight over 4 lbs.  The typical weight of a captive-bred adult is 1,250 gms or about 2-1/2 lbs.  They are extremely large overall with a large black-colored curved beak used for cracking very hard palm nuts and as an aid in climbing.  (At the time of this writing the last recorded weight I have for David in May 2008 was 1574 gms at age 14).

Color - Deep cobalt blue.  A Hyacinth Macaw's head is slightly lighter in color than their body.  They have bright golden-yellow skin around their large black eyes and lower mandible.  The underside of their wing and tail feathers is very dark gray.  Juvenile Hyacinth Macaws have similar plumage to adults.

Life Span - 70 - 90 years

Average Age at Weaning - 6 to 9 months

Age at Maturity - 5 to 7 years

Breeding in the Wild - Hyacinth Macaws live as mated pairs and remain committed for life.  They also live in family groups consisting of parents and offspring.  They breed seasonally after the rainy season which usually lasts from August to December.  Clutches normally consist of 2 eggs with the second egg laid as insurance. If the first chick is lost to predation the second egg offers the chance of at least one chick surviving. If the second egg is laid more than 4 days after the first egg the second chick rarely survives due to starvation. Because baby Macaws take so long to leave the nest Hyacinth Macaws breed every other year.

Food in the Wild - Nuts from the Acuri and Bocaiuva palm trees, seeds, some fruit and limited vegetable matter.  Hyacinth Macaws use their spectacular beak to score the palm nut and then shear the nut in two like a chisel with it's lower mandible.

Macadamia nuts opened by a Hyacinth Macaw
The photo shows the shells of macadamia nuts that David opened in a flash.  It is amazing to watch how fast he opens one of these nuts.  He finds the seam of the nut by rolling it around and feeling the exterior with his tongue.  Once the seam is discovered he applies pressure with his lower mandible until the shell flies apart.  It takes me somewhat longer to open them with a special nut cracker.  A regular nutcracker won't do!

Native Habitat - Contrary to popular belief Hyacinth Macaws are not rainforest birds -- they avoid heavily forested areas.  They are found in lightly forested and seasonally flooded grasslands in Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay.  The largest number of Hyacinths (estimated to be about 5,000 in 2005) live in the Pantanal area of Brazil.  This area is the world's largest tropical wetland.

Wild Hyacinth Macaws - They are highly social and faithful birds that mate for life.  Hyacinth Macaws fly in small groups or in pairs often accompanied by raucous screeching.  They congregate in the late afternoon in regular roosting sites called "dormatories" which seem to be centers for the exchange of information.

Vocalizations of Wild Macaws - Their voices are impressive and consist of a variety of very loud harsh, guttural squawks and screeches that travel over the distance of a kilometer or more.  Because of their large size the calls are much lower in frequency than other macaw species.

Endangered In The Wild

Wild Hyacinth Macaws are in danger of extinctionThe two main reasons are habitat destruction and capture for the pet trade.  They have also been hunted for food and feathers. In the last few years the wild numbers of macaws has risen to about 6,500 with approximately 5,000 of those birds in the Pantanal region of Brazil.

There are important conservation efforts that are positively affecting the survival of Hyacinth Macaws and other species.  Much of their efforts are responsible for wonderful ecotourism adventures that are now available to see Macaws in the wild.  See links below.

Conservation of Parrots

A rewarding way to help protect endangered birds and animals is through ecotourism.  Responsible ecotourism helps in several ways.  It develops an income for indigenous people to replace their need to illegally capture and trade birds and animals to earn a living.  Many former trappers have become guides for visitors who wish to see the birds and animals they once trapped.  Ecotourism fosters pride in their native animals furthering the desire to save and protect them.  You'll benefit from an enriching experience and many benefits will extend to the birds!  For information on ecotourism to see the Hyacinth Macaws, other Macaws and birds visit:

Victor Emanuel Nature Tours
Inka Natura Travel
The Independent Traveler's Guide WILD MACAWS
... among others!

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