The Large Parrots: Cockatoos, Amazon Parrots and Macaws

What makes a rock star? They stand out in the crowd! People flock to them. Wildly charismatic, they can hold the attention of crowds of people. Not unlike rock stars, Amazon parrots, cockatoos and macaws do the same, but each species is quite different. One thing they do have in common is their popularity and that rock-star view of the world. And one thing none of them require is a sound system. They can be loud!

All three of these parrots can be wonderful companions and those who have them are their biggest fans, fiercely loyal to their chosen species. When selecting one of these divas for your home, be prepared to greet a big personality every morning who wants nothing more than to be on stage.

What makes these big birds different is the distinct style and personality of each species.

Active and frisky, Amazons, cockatoos and macaws tend to be enthusiastic chewers and love to play. Whether it’s chewing on wooden or leather toys, tossing foot toys like soccer balls, tearing up boxes, or banging on a bell, these birds love being busy.

Just like any band member, these parrots need to practice! Keeping these birds in tune with positive-reinforcement training is an essential part of socializing them to be a loving and engaging member of their “band” (aka the family).

Like most rock stars, these parrots love a big dressing room. Shari Mirojnick, an avian veterinarian tech in Florida, said, “When it comes to caging the large macaws, cockatoos and Amazons, don’t go with the smallest cage you can get away with. Buy the biggest cage you can. You want room for wing-flapping, lots of toys and perches, and extra food bowls. If you don’t have room for a large macaw’s cage, no problem! A mini macaw, Goffin’s cockatoo, bare-eyed cockatoo, or white-fronted Amazon doesn’t require a giant cage. They are the same fun in a smaller package.”

Blue-fronted Amazon Parrot

That Amazon Attitude

Amazons are the quintessential embodiment of what most people think of when they think of parrots. This is probably due to the reference from Robert Louis Stevenson’s book Treasure Island, first published in 1883.

The ship captain’s parrot was a female named Capn’ Flint and this adventure book for children is what most likely cemented that image of the pirate’s parrot with his swashbuckling partner in people’s minds. It is that cooler than cool, “swashbuckling image” that captures imaginations when people think of Amazon parrots.

Amazons are typically very active and are known to be excellent vocalists. They want interaction with their “fans,” and playing is an appropriate way to “meet and greet” with them.

Paula Lynn Bolen Nowak of Texas has three Amazons and describes some of their activities. “Gabrielle, my lilac crown, loves any kind of foot toy and she likes skewers with wood beads/squares to chip off. Sadie, my 24-year-old yellow-naped Amazon, loves wood that has been partially slotted along with 1⁄2-inch thick wood cut into squares on her skewer.”

I’m Not Fat! I’m Just Fluffy!

Though Amazons are considered active parrots, not all of them fit this description. “My Amazons range in their play activities from destroying their toys and screaming, to seeking out my attention,” said Amy Bergman from Ohio, who has three Amazons. “But they all have one thing in common: they are perch potatoes. If I left them alone they would all just sit there.”

Bergman’s “couch potato Amazons” bring up an issue occasionally seen in Amazon parrots: Obesity. This happens occasionally, and an inactive parrot may develop weight problems. The lack of exercise can contribute to obesity, as well as high-calorie treats and foods, but there are things you can do to help.

A larger cage may encourage your Amazon to climb and explore, as will more playtime outside the cage. Ensuring that the cage is well-planned with strategic placement of perches that encourage climbing and moving around might burn off more calories. Give your Amazon room to move and she might well take advantage of the space.

Planning active games such as tug-of-war, wing flapping on your hand or having your Amazon parrot chase a ball on the floor will get those muscles moving and increase her heart rate. This in turn will burn calories. Decrease high-calorie treats for more healthy choices like carrot pieces or skewers of vegetables too.
Interacting with your Amazon can be fun, and training is an engaging, and necessary aspect of socializing your green parrot.

“These opinionated birds have distinct preferences,” said Susan Chamberlain, a writer for the BIRD TALK Annual from New York, who owns several Amazons. “I believe many negative behaviors can be avoided if new Amazon owners ask the right questions of the people they are acquiring the bird from.”

Sulphur-crested cockatoo

Cockatoos: Kings Of The Headbangers Ball

Active, loud, vocal and gregarious, there are many species of cockatoos to choose from, yet all of them want that attention required by any rock star! These birds are very social and require care, training and should learn to be polite and kind to their fans.

Ranging in size from 11 inches to 27 inches, each cockatoo species has her own charms. Some of the more popular and well-loved species include the Moluccan, the umbrella, both species of sulphur-crested cockatoos (greater and lesser), and those beautiful bare-eyed cockatoos. There are variations in cockatoo colors, including the striking black palm cockatoo, but these species are not common as pets compared to the white cockatoos.

Noted for being cuddly “Velcro birds,” cockatoos love attention and affection. Raising a young cockatoo is a bit trickier than raising other species because of her demand for attention. It is crucial that a young cockatoo learns to play on her own. Your cockatoo can’t always depend on having her “managers” around to take care of every whim, so it’s best to teach her a bit of self-reliance.

Encouraging independent play, and meeting her daily nutritional, attention and exercise needs, makes for a happy, healthy cockatoo. This takes some strategy, but most owners will tell you that their cockatoo is well worth the effort it took to bring her up in this manner.

Even older cockatoos can be taught independent play. “Foraging play is best for ’toos,” said Pam Skidmore of Florida. “Mine like playtime on the floor of the cage, but you have to keep reinventing the wheel to keep them occupied. They are smart and get tired of the same toys and activities.”

Florida Parrot Rescue fundraiser Janet Hilton has had Ze, an umbrella cockatoo, for 11 years. She believes they are not for everyone. “[Ze] can pierce your eardrums from 30 feet, and destroy the frame on a window in two seconds flat. I have to say that for every negative — and there are quite a few: destroyed furniture, chewed computers, deep bites on the thumb, and dander — I find twice as many positives and would never consider having any other parrot as a companion.”

hyacinth macaw

The Flamboyant Macaws

“Macaws are the rock stars of the avian world,” said Robert Sacha of Illinois. “They’re loud, flashy, impetuous and yet they create the most beautiful lyrics with their companion human.”

Kelly Parsley on Facebook said that macaws are boisterous and always the attention-hounds. “They have a mischievous intelligence that gets them into trouble,” she said, “It also makes them expert problem-solvers. Macaws have a way of engaging people by playing, goofing around and making us laugh. They are the typical life of the party!”

Macaws are quite popular and, with the wide variety to choose from, you can select a macaw from small to large. With mini macaws no larger than Amazon parrots, on up to the giant hyacinth, macaws can fit into a variety of spaces and many different types of families. While the larger macaws get most of the attention, mini macaws have become quite popular. Outgoing, sporty and animated, there is nothing mini about their personality!

Active and clever, macaws will even play games with you. Debbie Sharrow Kirkbride from Michigan plays a wonderful game with Abba, her 60-year-old, blue-and-gold macaw. “I have a ball tied to a hanger on top of Abba’s cage and we play tetherball. He hits it with his beak in one direction, and I hit it back in the other causing the ball to wrap around the post. Our favorite game!”

Macaws love to chew, so wooden toys, leather pieces, interactive foraging toys and bird-safe branches are a necessary addition for their day-to-day lives. Macaws also like tearing up unusual items. “Kizmet, my Hahn’s macaw, loves the phone books I put out for him,” said Karen Powell Atwood, vice president of Florida Parrot Rescue.

Not all chewing is appropriate. Ever hear of notorious rock bands destroying their hotel rooms? They have nothing on macaws! Holes in shirts, battle-scarred baseboards and gnawed-on kitchen tables and chairs are just a few examples of inappropriate chewing that macaws do. Being watchful and observant during out-of-cage playtime is highly recommended!

Words Of Wisdom

Amazon parrots, cockatoos and macaws can live for decades. Carol Strickland Wilson from North Carolina stressed the commitment it takes to bring one of these boisterous birds into your family. “Remember, they are a lifetime commitment, not a passing fancy.”

Like many high-profile personalities in the entertainment world, stress can get the best of these birds. Todd Driggers, DVM, Avian & Exotic Animal Clinic of Arizona in Gilbert, Ariz., said stress is a major contributing factor to most disease processes. “Stress can be from the [bird’s] inability to control their environment and destiny,” he said. “If placed in a home in an area of perceived too high or too low of activity, as individually decided on by the particular bird, this may result in diseases associated with stress such as feather-destructive behaviors, immune suppression, obesity, etc. While we cannot read avian thoughts, it is our responsibility to interpret particular behaviors they are communicating to avoid the disease process and learned helplessness.”

While having any of these rock stars in a family setting is a big responsibility, the rewards can be tremendous and the return on your effort and time is well worth it. Their playful nature, their “here I am!” personalities and their intelligence is captivating and magnetic.

Birds are more than simply a pet; they will change your lifestyle and can enrich it. With rehearsal and practice, love and attention, they will become a member of your family “group” and play on the strings of your heart.

Originally published in the 2013 Bird Talk Annual? Interested in reading the entire issue? Check it out below!

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  • We can I adopt a parrot from

  • I was thirilled with your new issue can’t wait for the next one
    also lots of good information

    barbara DeFiore
  • Seriously AM? That is TOTAL nonsense.

    Michael Ostrogorsky
  • There’s other species of sulfur crested cockatoos as well- medium and citron; aND gofffins, red-vented cockatoos among the white cockatoos.
    Note that in 27 states it is illegal to possess mollucan, umbrella, red-vent, lesser-sulfur and citron cockatoos; blue-throated, military, buffons macaws are also prohibited, all thanks to the actions of pitchforks-and-torches petaphiles

  • So happy that Bird Talk is back! Loved your first issue! Shame it caused so much mailing problem for you. Keep up the great work!

    Tina Groenbeck

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