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Red Fronts

From The Pet Bird Report May/Jun 1992


by Mary Ellen LePage, BIRDS 2 PET

Endangered But Breeding Well

The red-fronted macaw, from a small area in Bolivia, is one of the least known of the macaws. The red-fronted macaw was unknown to aviculture until 1973 and the first breeding in the U.S.A. occurred in 1981. Although the red-fronted is endangered, with less than 3000 remaining in the wild, they are breeding well in aviculture and are appropriately starting to appear in the pet market.

Nesting and Rearing of Young

In early December, I received my wild-caught proven-breeder pair and they were put on a pelleted diet and daily fresh fruits and vegetables. The pair had a history of having 1-4 eggs per clutch, multiple clutches per year, but never raised more than 2 offspring. They had their first clutch of 3 eggs in early February, while the hen was being treated for an infection. One egg hatched in the nest and a live chick approximately two days old was observed standing and yelling lustily to be fed in the a.m., but all traces of the young had disappeared by evening. One infertile egg and one egg with a chick dead in the shell were removed at that time.

The second clutch of 4 eggs was laid the end of March. I pulled one egg to be incubator hatched, one egg was infertile and two healthy offspring were fed and well cared for by the parents until they were pulled from the nest at 2 weeks. The incubator hatched chick and both parent hatched babies matured well without incident or infection. The incubator hatched baby was started on electrolyte solution for 1 day, transferred to a commercial baby formula for 10 days (3 different brands were tried with varying success) then switched to a prepared formula containing monkey biscuits, pumpkin, spinach and corn, peanut butter, baby oatmeal, and vitamin supplement. All babies thrived on this formula and preferred it to the commercial mixes. A third clutch of 2 eggs was laid last year, one egg was infertile and one yielded a healthy parent raised chick.

Pictures Do Not Do Them Justice

The adults at about 60 cm (24 inches) and 500 grams are the smallest of the standard size macaw (2/3 the size of a blue and gold macaw), and larger than the mini-macaws. They are varying shades of yellowish olive green with teal blue tail feathers and teal blue primary feathers with black veins and inner edges. They have red ear patches and red blending into orange on their forehead to crown, and shoulder covers. They have bright orange blending into greenish yellow under their wings. The red feathers on their legs give the appearance that they are wearing red leggings. People frequently comment on how much more beautiful these birds are in real life - their pictures just do not do them justice.

Variations in Appearance

Although each bird may have a minor different variation of color pattern, they are not sexually dimorphic. The beaks are black and have variations of texture or scaly appearance, even in the babies. They have the typical macaw eye color, dark in the chick and lightening with maturity , but with only a small black-feathered eye patch. The feathers are not held tight and sleekly to the body as is done in the larger macaw species. They have a luxurious undercoat, and the feathers are held looser and give a fluffier appearance and texture, somewhat like that of a cockatoo.

The chicks also have orange under their wings and red leggings, but they have a black band on their nape and the nape and shoulders do not get red feathers until six months. Full coloration is not complete until they reach maturity at 2 years. Because they do not achieve full coloration early, their potential beauty is not recognized by the novice bird buyer.

A Special Sign Of Affection

The red-fronted use their colorful under-side of their wing to attract your attention. When a person that they like approaches, they immediately tilt their body down on the far side and raise their wing on the close side so that they expose their beautiful underwing coloration to you. They may also cup this wing around their bird or human friend (an endearing gesture). Because of their feather softness and down undercoat, they are very pettable. They will keep the underside of their wing exposed to you as long as you express willingness to pet it. Mine lays upside down in my lap in the evening so I will pet his tummy while watching T.V. (more like a kitten than a bird).

Vocal Communication

Red-fronted macaws are excellent talkers, but their voice is a bird tonal quality; they are not perfect tonal imitators as are the African Gray. They tend to speak appropriately (say good-by as I am about to leave), but speak when they want to speak, usually not on command.

Red-fronted macaws coo. They coo with contentment when they are held by their caring keeper. They also have the potential to make a louder noise if they so choose (as the wild parents sometimes demonstrate) , but they are not vocal over extended periods of time as are some other birds, such as conures. Their call is not the " honk " of the larger macaws, but more of a trill. They mostly restrict their noise to squawking - with excitement when you first make an appearance in the morning or come back home after an absence, and in play during the day. Greeting them and giving them a brief pet calms them down. As babies they have a very rhythmic squawk, that may be quite constant as they are being held. This " baby " squawk disappears several months after weaning. The red-fronted are intelligent birds who quickly learn trick training in a single or few short sessions. Since they may like to lie on their back anyway, teaching them to play dead may be quite easy.

Bonding and Playing

Red-fronted macaws tend to form strong pair-bonds with mates or humans. However, in my absence, they immediately form another strong pair bond with the next available person. They are typical macaws in that they like to " rough-house " and play games of intimidation with each other and with the humans. They may bite each others feet and squawk, but they know just how hard to do it without hurting each other, and seem to enjoy the game. With humans they also challenge by mouthing, and if the human jumps back, they know that they gotcha (they have just proven that they are dominant). Humans need to learn how to handle macaws - move in on them, not away, after they have challenged you, holding their upper beak firmly, talk soothingly and let them know that you are the dominant one. Hand-fed birds are eager for the companionship of people, but are capable of entertaining themselves for periods of time when the companionship is not offered.

High Activity

They are excellent flyers and can even hover in flight. When their wings are clipped, they still are reasonably active in the cage, hanging from the top of the cage by their toes or playing with swings, ropes and toys. Because of their activity level, a large cage is preferred. The red-fronted macaw is an ideal size for a pet, large enough to appeal to those that desire a larger bird, but small enough to be handleable or to accompany you in public. I frequently take my red-fronted as company when I meet my husband at the airport or when we visit the local wineries, etc. The bird, always an attraction to strangers, has a calm personality and is not upset or hyperactive in new settings or with new people. He may or may not allow strangers to also pet him.

A Great Pet Macaw

This newly discovered macaw deserves some special consideration as a choice for bird pet. It's distinctive beauty, manageable size, fun character and loving disposition make it an ideal pet macaw.

[ Editors Note: Ricky, my red-fronted macaw, had some serious problems from being force weaned too young, confined in too small a cage and generally neglected in a pet shop. At that time there were not so many red-fronts breeding in captivity. My intention in owning him was to settle him down and eventually find a breeding situation for him. Because of his continuing neurotic food begging, I started hand feeding him twice a day even though he was over a year old. Within a week or so, the " regression feeding " was successful in reversing his excessive food begging behavior and I gradually reweaned him. This made a tremendous difference in his sense of security. Ricky had a melodic voice, and would excitedly repeat " Hi Rick, Hi Rick, Hi Ricky, Ricky, Ricky, Hi Hi " when I entered the room. I loved it when he would beckon me by holding his wing out showing off the beautiful orange sherbet coloration inside his wing. Occasionally, I let Ricky sit on my shoulder (with permission!) when I watched TV. If he felt I wasn't paying enough attention to him, he would turn around and spread his wing over my face and coo in my ear. A friend of mine took Ricky when he became sexually mature and he moved in with an " older woman " last year. This year they are showing strong signs of romantic interest in each other and hopefully they will have babies soon. If my life ever settles down again, I would like to have one of Ricky's chicks as a pet. I personally feel that the red-fronted macaw has the potential to be one of the best pet macaws. I have had the pleasure of handling Mary Ellen's babies and they are wonderful! People hesitate to buy them as pets because they are more familiar with the larger macaws. Although they are endangered in the wild, they are breeding well in captivity. If you are interested in a macaw as a pet, find out more about the delightful personality of the red-fronted macaw.   Be sure and buy from a reputable source, like Mary Ellen LePage, who respects the physical and psychological needs of the parrots. ed.]

Mary Ellen LePage     Tel: 408-997-3113     Fax: 408-323-1802

15466 Los Gatos Blvd., Suite 105-198, Los Gatos, CA 95032

email: mail@birds2pet.com