The Diet Of The Macaw

  • Time to read: 8 min.

Even though we love our birds, most pet owners tend to neglect the nutrition of their macaws. Often, folks assume that giving them seeds counts as a balanced diet which is not always the case. That said, what is the diet of the Macaw?

Like most birds, macaws are omnivorous creatures that consume meat, fruits, nuts, berries, seeds, and some vegetables. Like the hyacinth macaws, some macaws require a diet rich in fat. But in captivity, what they feed on varies from what they would eat in the wild.

Macaws have a unique digestive system; they are known for eating food containing caustic or toxic substances without getting sick. So, in this article, we’ll show you what macaws eat in captivity. We’ll also show you their favorite food in the wild and what not to feed them. (source)

What Are Macaw Parrots?

Macaw is a common term referring to 18 New World parrots, usually colorful and with long tails. These brightly colored parrots are considered the most spectacular birds on the planet, and they are native to South and North America. (source

Even though some conservation concerns about the ones found in the wild, macaws are pretty famous as companion parrots or in aviculture. (source)

Besides being exceptionally colorful, these birds are very social, which is one of the main reasons they are popular companion parrots. Fortunately, most Macaws, including scarlet macaws, fly freely in their habitat while others are in captivity. The Scarlet Macaw’s natural habitat includes a wet evergreen forest amongst the foliage of trees.

Therefore, their diet varies with their habitats; for example, those living in the Amazon consume the clay exposed on the river banks every day, except during the wet seasons. While those in captivity have a set diet that supplies the needed vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbs, and other nutrients. (source)

Therefore, as a new macaw owner, you must be wondering what macaws eat? And what can I do to ensure that my pet gets everything it needs in my home that it would get in the wild. Therefore, in this article, we’ll start by showing you what macaws eat in the wild before proceeding to what you can give them at home?

What Do Macaws Eat In The Wild?

While the macaws in captivity have it easy, the ones in the wild, like the yellow and blue macaws and the great green macaws, forage over 52 miles searching for some seasonally available foods. 

Some macaws in the wild consume food containing toxic substances that can kill some birds, but not the macaws. These macaws have a unique digestive system that can digest the toxic substances in some of their foods. (source)

These parrots consume a wide range of foods in the wild, including stems, flowers, leaves, palm fruits, fruits, nuts, and seeds. Some of the safe veggies they consume include beets, asparagus, carrots, sweet potatoes, corn, zucchini, and tomatoes.

  1. Clay

All the macaws and parrots living in the Amazon basin love consuming the clay on the river banks. They descend to the riverbanks every day to consume the clay except during the rainy season. But most folks believe that they use the clay to neutralize the toxins they have consumed.

According to the study conducted by The Macaw Society’s principal investigator, Donald Brightsmith, the clay they consume doesn’t have high quantities of cation-exchange capability that can help in neutralizing the toxins. 

Therefore, they don’t use clay to neutralize the toxin in their food. Instead, their bodies can digest it without harming themselves.

Donald Brightsmith and his team discovered that the clay is rich in sodium. Sodium is a crucial element scarce in places about 100km from the world’s oceans. Therefore, the only source of sodium for the birds in the Amazon basin is the clay on the river beds. (source)

  1. Insects

Yeah, you read correctly; macaws love insects. In the wild, macaws have an endless supply of insects that supply them with the needed vitamins and proteins. Unfortunately, most macaw owners wouldn’t dare give their pets some insects, but it is their best supply of protein, minerals, and vitamins in the wild. Plus, they are the most accessible food to find and consume.

  1. Flowers

Unlike the ones in captivity, wild macaws have a wide range of flowers that they can feed on. So when food is abundant, they turn to flowers which are an exceptional replacement when they are starving. The different types of flowers in the wild provide them with the necessary nutritional needs to thrive.

The flowers they love consuming include hibiscus, daises, elderberry, thyme, sage, sunflowers, and violets. But this doesn’t mean that you have to start picking some flowers from your yard for them. Instead, you need to realize that flowers make a great part of their diet in the wild.

  1. Corn

Generally, all macaw owners don’t cook corn for their pets, but they will consume it if they find some corn in the wild. Corn is easy to consume, making them easy to pick for these beautiful birds. 

However, corn is not their preferred source of nourishment. After all, corn is not the most nutritious and tastiest seed available.

Other than corn, macaws also consume other seeds when they find them in the wild. These seeds can be from fruits, veggies, and other plants. Therefore, as long as there are seeds in the wild, they will consume them.

What Does the Macaw Eat-In Captivity?

What Does the Macaw Eat-In Captivity?
Macaw ( Psittacidae ), eating sunflower seeds from a woman’s hand.

So as a macaw owner, you should try as much as possible to copy what they consume in the wild at home. But most importantly, make sure you give them a balanced diet without harming them. Therefore, make sure you feed your pet the following foods in the right quantities:

  1. Seeds And Nuts

The diet of most parrots, including macaws, is primarily composed of seeds and nuts. The birds in the wild consume a wide range of seeds. Their favorite seeds are either sunflower or peanut seeds, but they love other high-fat options like almonds and cashews. Funny enough, when you give them a mixture of seeds, these parrots pick the fatty seeds and leave the rest.

Unfortunately, most seeds are deficient in nutrients, including calcium and vitamin A, but they have high-fat levels. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying they don’t have a place in the parrot’s diet: some macaws prefer them over all the other healthy options available in the seed mix. So when giving your macaw seeds, you should consider them junk food.

After all, a high-fat level increases the likelihood of getting fatty liver diseases, obesity, heart issues, and high cholesterol levels. Therefore, most professionals recommend that the seeds should only make up 25% of your pet’s diet. (source)

  1. Veggies

Fresh veggies can be a great addition to your parrot’s diet. But not all veggies are equally delicious; however, some veggies like lettuce and celery have high water and fiber levels. The dark yellow, leafy veggies are an excellent choice for your pets. Some veggies may not be delicious, but they are very nutritious.

Therefore, you can entice your Macaw with various forms to help improve your birds’ nutritional level. You can give them cooked, chopped, or fresh whole veggies. 

Try hanging some veggies from the side of the cages using a clip. Some of the best veggies that you can give your macaws include:

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Carrot tops and roots
  • Parsley
  • Green beans
  • Coriander
  • Cauliflowers
  • Zucchini
  • Squash
  • Snow pea

Some veggies like butternut and sweet potatoes have to be cooked and then cooled before being served to the parrots.

  1. Fruits

Most birds, including macaws, love fruits; therefore, you should give them a wide range of fruits and not just their favorite. However, overdoing it can be detrimental to your pets, so you should limit their consumption of fruits.

Like veggies, a considerable percentage of the deep-colored fruits are highly nutritious. So it would help if you gave them a wide range of tropical fruits, but make sure you remove all the poisonous apple seeds and pits. The apple seeds are rich in cyanide which can be very dangerous, even fatal to our pets. 

Since fruits and veggies go hand in hand, we recommend that they make up between 20 to 25% of their daily diet. Some of the best fruits for parrots include:

  • Pineapples
  • Papaya
  • Apples
  • Tangerines
  • Oranges
  • Mangoes
  • Grapes
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  1. Pelleted Foods

After realizing that most parrots in captivity are suffering from severe nutrient deficiencies, most pet food firms started producing pellets for them. These pellets are made using a wide range of foods like fruits, veggies, seeds, and grains and fortified with minerals and vitamins before being baked into various shapes, including pellets.

These pellets are designed to provide the needed nutritional needs while preventing your Macaw from picking its favorite while leaving the rest. Unfortunately, some parrots, especially those initially on seed-based diets, don’t always go for this formulated diet. After all, despite being delicious, these pellets don’t provide the stimulation and variety our pets crave in their diets.

Therefore, the pellets should make up between 50% and 75% of your pet’s diet. Luckily, pellets are available in various shapes, colors, and flavors. So it would help if you looked for pellets that would be appealing to your pets.

Therefore, you should look for a high-quality product containing fat, protein, minerals, and vitamins. Plus, pellets are not that costly since they’re cheaper to produce.  

What About Human Food?

Generally, any nutritious food your family eats, your Macaw can also consume, but make sure you follow the above guidelines. Some macaws have enjoyed some lean meat, eggs, fish, and cheese, but make sure you give your pet dairy products in moderation. You should avoid chocolate, junk, and any product containing caffeine. Alcoholic beverages are also not good for your pet.

Will My Parrot Need Extra Amino Acids, Minerals, and Vitamins?

A vet can help you determine its nutritional needs by comparing its diet and the particular nutrients it requires. After all, certain minerals and vitamins may be crucial to your pet’s life at a certain point. For example, your pet may require calcium supplements to help egg-laying during the breeding season.

Powdered supplements can be stable, so you can mix them with water or apply them directly to moist food. Adding it to dried food will add little to no value to your pet.


What Human Food Can Parrots Eat?

There are numerous safe human foods your parrot can consume. Safe veggies include zucchini, tomatoes, spinach, collard greens, corn, carrots, broccoli, pepper, and sweet potatoes. Some macaws have been known to enjoy lean meat.

Can I Give My Macaw Peanut Butter?

Macaws can consume peanut butter, but you should give them in moderation. Most bird owners consider peanut butter a treat. 

Remember, peanut butter contains a wide range of additives like oils, sugar, and molasses which can increase your pet’s blood sugar levels, which is not ideal for your Macaw.

Can Macaws Consume Eggs?

Generally, eggs are safe for your parrots. Plus, since they come packed with nutrients, they can positively affect their health. But as with any food, you should also give them eggs in moderation.

Final Verdict

Macaws are extraordinary creatures that can consume a wide range of food in the wild. But in captivity, they will depend on you, so you shouldn’t assume that seeds are all they need. Instead, you should prepare a balanced diet for your Macaw in the right quantities. On the other hand, you can give them treats like peanut butter in moderation. But remember, overfeeding the treats can be detrimental to their bodies.

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  1. Wikipedia contributors, Macaw, Accessed March 31, 2022
  2. Britannica staff, Macaw, Accessed March 31, 2022
  3. Naomi Millburn, the eating habits of scarlet macaw parrots, Accessed March 31, 2022
  4. Lianne Mcleod, Parrot Nutrition 101, Accessed March 31, 2022
  5. Chris Brownlow, Bird-safe edible flowers, Accessed March 31, 2022