Sally the macaw: 17 years old and counting

Sally the macaw: 17 years old and counting

For just $1,500 you can purchase a macaw. You can get a rescue even cheaper.

Macaws are an exotic bird from the Amazon, up to 33 inches in length from head to tail.  The birds are known for their intelligence and loving personalities. Albeit pricey, they live for 70 years, a one time purchase that will last forever.

It’s a rare pet that will surely grab the attention of those around you. Sounds amazing, why not get one if you have the money? As an owner of a macaw myself, I’m here to tell you why.

Sally, a macaw, joined our family in 2015. We bought her for $500, a price so low it would barely cover the cost of her cage alone.

Her original owner died rather suddenly, and the family had no idea on how to care for her. We bought her for our retired grandfather since he lived alone. We thought he could use the company. He lived with her for four years, and Sally seemed to quite love it, but then he too passed away. She came to stay with us, this time permanently. Suddenly we were taking a crash course on macaws.

First, macaws are not predictably friendly, even if they like you. They can be, sure. They sometimes love petting and cuddling much like a cat or dog would, but also like cats, they can be touchy. The biggest difference between the two is that if a cat decides to bite you, it won’t break a bone. Macaws eat hard nuts from the rainforests in South American rainforests. Their beaks evolved for cracking open hard nuts and other hard objects — including human fingers. Sally seems to enjoy testing people’s endurance when it comes to biting, grabbing down and slowly biting harder and harder waiting for you to pull away. Only my father has been able to endure this little test of hers, and in turn she never bites him.

Second, macaws are messy. They are easily bored, and can in turn become aggravated with their owners because of it. Chewing up wooden tree trunks and other nearby objects is both how the Macaw passes its time, and how it keeps its beak trimmed. Giving Sally wooden blocks and toys keeps her from attacking nearby drywall. She leaves wooden splinters all over the floor, a compromise we’ve learned to live with. I often find myself pulling chunks of wood from my hair, socks and clothing.

Third, macaws are stubborn and smart. Trainers of Macaws often say that they aren’t actually “training” the birds, but instead merely teaching them what they want the macaws to do, and hoping the birds will agree. Professional bird trainer Jamieleigh (known as BirdTricks on YouTube) claims that when she is training macaws, she is not teaching them what to do; she is merely teaching them a language. The macaws will speak their own mind. If her birds do not want to do something, they will not do it. Sally has her own language, which we have been slowly learning. She lifts her leg up when she wants to be carried and bobs her head when she wants food; however, we have also learned that she uses these little gestures as ways to draw us closer, so that she may bite us when she’s in particularly bad moods.

Fourth, as one of the loudest of domesticated birds, macaws can be quite a headache. A macaw can’t be trained to be quiet either; it’s like training a dog not to sniff. It’s simply their natural instinct. Having to call out to other birds in the wild from up to 500 miles away, macaws are known to scream for no reason. Simply for fun, because they are bored, because they are happy, or hungry, or tired or just lonely. Being noisy is a macaw’s main form of communication.

Finally, and most importantly, macaws are susceptible to stress. When we got Sally, she was already starting to pull out her own feathers, she refused to eat and she was unnaturally silent for a macaw. The funeral for our grandfather took up so much of our attention that we didn’t have time to properly care for her. We left Sally alone in an empty apartment for long stretches. We should have treated her better, but we simply didn’t know how bad it was to do that, figuring, like most animals, as long as she had food she would be alright. It took us a long time to get her back to normal and once we did, she began to start talking again.

Her true self emerged. Macaws are rather intelligent animals. Sally will whistle and dance to her favorite songs such as “In Hell I’ll Be in Good Company” by The Dead South, or Pharrell Williams’ “Happy,” but if you turn on Metallica, she will shout “Shut Up!” in protest. Every day when I come home, I’ll hear her yelling, “Hi, hello” even before I leave the car, startling people walking by, but it never fails to bring a smile to my face, no matter how terrible a day I had, knowing that she’s standing on her perch, dancing eagerly to see me.

Although they’re loving animals, macaws are complicated birds that require complicated care. Buying one of these birds without proper knowledge will stress both you and the bird. Giving one of these birds away after a while simply because it’s more work than you expected is not only unfair, but simply cruel to the bird or any animal, for that matter. Purchasing a pet as an accessory for your home or because it’s unique or interesting is simply cruel. Here is my advice for anyone considering buying a macaw. Don’t get one unless you are looking for a lifelong friend. You may well have 70 years to spend together.

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Written by Faith Ann Looney, Contributing Writer

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