Bringing Your Macaw or Cockatoo Home

First Published in Birdworld Magazine in March/April 1990

Psittacine Breeding & Research Farm
Box 13, Point Arena, CA 95468 USA
PH: (213) 819-1723

Getting a bird home can be a simple as putting a baby on your lap. I have brought home five-week old Macaws on three-day automobile trips, sent babies home (on their owners laps) on airplanes, and have shipped birds. A rare bird or an easily mis-identified species (such as galerita, or Ara ambigua) should always be picked up by the new owner, even if it means flying across the country. Take your own carrier along. Make sure it is airline approved, and make sure that your return trip is on an airline that permits pets on the flight. Make sure the carrier is escape-proof and well identified. Airlines must know ahead of time if you are taking a pet in the passenger cabin, as many times, only one pet is permitted... be sure you have your reservation in FIRST! Provide a spill-proof watering device, and some food and substrate material. I like shredded, un-printed newspaper material. If your carrier is too large to fit under your seat, you may have to ship it in the cargo hold. Try not to do that if you can help it. If you must ship by cargo, you still need to make reservations in plenty of time. There is usually a minimum fee. Be sure to ask if there are other birds being shipped in the hold. You do not want to ship your new baby is the same cargo hold as a load of birds from quarantine!

If the baby needs to be hand fed, take bottled water, plastic utensils, and throw-away diapers of paper. Have a supply of the formula that has been fed to the baby, and get a feeding lesson to show you the technique the breeders have been using before you try to feed it the first time. Plan enough food for an extra day in case of foul weather, and plan on throwing out utensils along the way rather than trying to find a place to wash them. Whenever you feed the baby, take it and the carrier into the rest room and feed it there. Don't make a commotion on the plane. I like to feed the babies just after we reach altitude; they don't know how to pop their ears, and swallowing helps them adjust to the altitude changes.

Shipping can also be done by air freight. Try to get non-stop flights with only one take off and landing. (Direct means you don't change planes, but you do make stops.) Avoid plane changes if at all possible. Remember that birds get air-sick too. If there is no flight that suits you, and you don't mind a little extra expense, Delta offers counter-to-counter service. this way, the bird never goes through the freight terminal, but is hand carried to the plane by an airline employee. I ship adult birds they way, finding it preferable to exposing them to the extreme heat or cold one can find in a freight terminal. Make sure you have the air-bill number, the flight number, and the arrival time. If you have a bird shipped to you, GET THERE EARLY!

If you travel by car, it is best to put a wild bird in a dog kennel type carrier. These can be bolted together with a perch in between halves, and they usually have plenty of room. A tame bird can be let out in the car while you travel, if you are careful. If the bird becomes frightened, perhaps by a truck driver honking his air-horn as he passes your car, you don't want the baby to end up under your brake pedal, or climbing up under the dash, biting wires as he disappears! Most babies will need to be fed during the trip, and this can help reassure them about traveling.

Hand feeding birds can be managed with just a little planning. Bottled water can be heated and kept in a thermos Bring plenty of formula and disposable utensils. Watch that the babies don't get too tired. On one trip I thought the baby was getting too tired so I rented a hotel room; he stayed up playing all the time I was there, and went to sleep when we got back in the car!

Before you leave to get your baby (or adult) bird, make sure you have a cage and a T-stand ready when you arrive home. Everything should be new or sterilized. I like to leave birds on a stand whenever possible, and in a cage when I can't be there. Have it ready so that the bird can be immediately placed where it is to live. Make sure the area is free of hazards (toilet seats down, windows closed and covered so they don't head for the glass) and remove sharp objects and chemicals, and any decorative objects that contain lead... (windows, planters, etc.)

Other animals in the house are often annoyed by the presence of a newcomer, and the newcomer may be frightened by the resident pets, so allow time for introductions. My Macaws are accustomed to black Doberman's; when I brought home a big yellow dog, they were upset for two days. The dog was as good as gold, but he was the "wrong color". Another black dog may not have been noticed.

Birds are territorial. If you are going to keep two birds in the same room, take the old bird out for a few days to a neutral area, and then try moving both birds to the area at the same time. This makes it seem like a new area for both birds, and they should not be as defensive of their space.

Please don't keep a pet snake (or other reptile) in view of the birds! It may not be obvious to you, but this kind of thing up set them. My Citron Cockatoos have a screaming fit when one of the tortoises walks by. I always know when one of those "snakes under rocks" is out of its burrow. the birds will never accept the tortoises. Also, make sure that the dog or cat does not torment the new bird either, and vice versa. You can raise cats and birds, and birds to bite cats. The pecking order extends to all the creatures in the house.


Lots of new faces all at once is confusing to the new baby, so make your guests be quiet and gentle around the newcomer. Has and gloves or glasses can alter your appearance and frighten the baby. A friend with curly hair and gloves really frightened a Moluccan we had - perhaps he looked like someone from the bird's past, and he brought instant panic. A gentle voice, favorite foods, and attention in a manner that is acceptable to the new bird will help make a smooth transition.

You can share meals with your new friend, thereby keeping a good variety of foods available to it's diet. the following is excerpted from a "Diet and Care" sheep that we provide with all of our babies. If you have any questions, please call.

FIRST, WASH YOU HANDS AND THE FOOD! Don't use the same cutting board for meat that you use for vegetables. Clorox your cutting board frequently. Use only fresh foods, no seconds or moldy items. Check with the grocer to see if the produce you buy contains pesticides.
If you would like a copy of the "Diet and Care" sheet that we use please send $1.00 plus a self addressed, stamped envelope.

I teach my birds to eat a little bit of a peanut butter sandwich, it's a good place to hide supplements and some medications. A quarter of a sandwich once a week will do. More and the bird will get fat.

I also give them branches of fresh eucalyptus, mulberry, and most fruit-wood (not cherry). they get some nutrition from budding leaves, and the wood is a great toy.

A list of no-no's might be:
Organ meats, (these tend to collect toxins), junk foods of any kind, processed foods, foods with sugar or salt, MSG, chocolate, honey, coffee, tea, or alcohol, avocado fruit or branches, rhubarb leaves. Also, be careful be careful with house-plants, check the Agricultural Extension Service for plants that grow in your area that might be toxic.

Unsafe toys are anything with glass, lead, clips or rings that open or pinch, contains strings, or that is broken.

Remember that not all birds like everything. Fresh is better than frozen, and canned foods should be checked for additives. Birds also like meat. You can offer any cooked meats, including the bones, if the bones are large. Fish or chicken should be fed in moderation and removed before it can spoil. Meat should not be more than 10% of the diet.