Everyone’s individual image of parrots might be a little bit different.
They do come in all imaginable shapes and sizes across literally hundreds of species, so it’s not surprising that our mental images don’t necessarily agree.
For many people, the macaw is likely what comes to mind when they think of parrots—but are macaws really parrots?
Yes, macaws are parrots. They are large, usually very brightly colored, and sporting very long tail feathers. Perhaps the most distinguishing feature of the macaw is their white faces striped with black. The term refers to a reasonably large group of New World parrots, and not just one species.
So, yes, macaws are certainly parrots.
They belong to the wider parrot family, and the term refers to a subset of parrots within that group.
They are one of the most popular companion parrots in the world, although conservation concerns are becoming more and more prevalent in the wild.
Let’s find out more.
Are macaws and parrots the same?
Well, yes, in the sense that macaws are parrots.
But not all parrots are macaws.
Macaw designates a subgroup within the wider parrot order of birds.
I’ll get into exactly how these classifications work shortly, so for now, macaws are the same as parrots, but not all parrots are the same as macaws.
One reason this is a common question is that, as I said, for many people when they think of parrots, a macaw, or something like it, is often what will come to mind.
They are the parrots that sit on pirate’s shoulders in stories and feature the bright plumage and long tail feathers that we associate with parrots.
The fact is, though, that parrot is a rather large classification, including a great many species.
Macaws are just one of those and are really not representative of a general view of parrots.
They are exceptionally large, among other things.
Generally speaking, parrots are hook billed, with flexible tongues, and four-toed, grasping feet with which they can manipulate objects.
These are the essential characteristics which define a parrot as distinct from other birds.
So, with the physical characteristics defined, let’s now look more closely at the terminology of zoological classification.
Are macaws in the parrot family?
Is a macaw in the parrot family?
Yes, macaws are in the parrot family.
Let’s try to get an understanding of what this means.
The widest definition of parrots is in their order—Psittaciformes.
This order comprises almost 400 species spread across more than 90 genera.
They are found mostly in tropical regions.
Macaws belong in this order.
The macaw’s family is Psittacidae, one step below their wider order.
This is one of the three subfamilies into which all true parrots are grouped.
This comprises around over 150 species, including some which are now extinct.
This group is thought to have evolved somewhere between 66 and 23 million years ago, during the Paleogene period.
Next, macaws are grouped into the subfamily Arinae or neotropical parrots.
These are mostly New World parrots found throughout the southern Americas.
Below that, finally, is the tribe Arini, which includes a clade of both macaws and what are called conures in aviculture, but parakeets in ornithology.
Within that, macaws are a group of a handful of species.
So, yes, macaws are definitely in the parrot family.
Parrots as species are far more numerous than you might expect, so incredibly detailed classifications are really important to properly distinguishing them all.
The parrot ‘family’ includes close to 400 species, all sharing a handful of common features which distinguish them as parrots.
Macaws are one of those, and indeed one of the most iconic tropical birds in the world.
What about this confusion with the term parakeet, then?
Is a macaw a parrot or a parakeet?
Macaws are parrots, and not parakeets.
But let’s just clear up what we mean by that, first.
In birdkeeping, and especially in the United States, the term parakeet refers to a single kind of parrot: what is otherwise called a budgie or budgerigar. This itself is a subgroup containing several species.
But, as I mentioned, in ornithology, budgies are not called parakeets.
Indeed, outside of the United States, budgies are not called parakeets.
Parakeet in the context of the study of birds refers to any one of a wide group of small and medium sized parrots, generally with long tail feathers.
Given that macaws are in fact one of the largest species of parrot, you can see that they don’t really fit this characterization.
Therefore, macaws are not parakeets but parrots, however you look at it.
Whether you’re talking about parakeets the budgies or parakeets the broader scientific definition, macaws do not fit the bill.
Can macaws talk?
For many of us, a parrot wouldn’t be a parrot if it couldn’t talk.
That’s a really essential definition of a parrot.
And when it comes to macaws, they certainly do talk!
They are considered some of the more natural speakers among parrots, readily willing to mimic human speech and learn all sorts of words and phrases.
That said, parrots are highly individual.
Each one has its own unique personality.
Sometimes, whether or not they talk is purely a matter of personal disposition.
The vast majority will pick up speech to some degree, even if it’s only occasionally mimicking certain words.
But most will pick up more than that.
In any case, you may need to train them to a degree to persuade them to properly talk.
They can respond well to the right kind of training, and it can end up making the talking a whole lot more natural.
But they certainly possess the natural ability in any case.
How many years do macaws live?
One of the things you need to be ready for as a parrot owner is that these birds tend to live for a very long time when well cared for.
This is especially true of macaws, who, in the right conditions, can live well over 50 years.
Many healthy macaws have reportedly lived for as long as 80 years.
Getting yourself a macaw is no trifling matter, then.
They could very well end up outliving you, depending on your age.
You need to be prepared to care for this animal potentially for the rest of your life.
Macaws are not good as first-time parrots, so you certainly ought to have a good deal of experience with parrots before you venture to get one.
If that kind of commitment doesn’t sound right for you, you need to rethink what you want out of a pet.
How much does a macaw cost?
The cost of buying the bird will vary a lot depending on the species.
As we’ve seen, there are several kinds of macaw, and some are in more demand as well as being far rarer to find.
This means there is a pretty massive range in terms of the price of these birds.
On the lower range, you can expect to pay at the very least $1000 for a macaw.
The most common macaws from reputable breeders will start around this price.
Blue and gold macaws are one of the more common varieties and sit somewhere around this price.
But there are many species, such as the hyacinth macaw, that are far rarer and more difficult to find.
These can sometimes cost as much as $18,000.
So, that’s your range—around $1000 to $18,000.
Are macaws good pets?
Yes, macaws are great pets!
They are fun, intelligent, inquisitive, and form deep bonds with their humans.
However, as I’ve touched on, it’s also really important that you understand just what you’re getting into with these parrots.
They are large and highly intelligent, meaning they need a lot of stimulation at all times.
If you’ve never owned a parrot before, it is not recommended to start with a macaw.
When something goes wrong with a big parrot like a macaw, it can go seriously wrong.
Start out with something smaller and less high maintenance, and build up your experience.
At that point, a macaw will make a great pet for you.
There’s definitely a lot to learn when it comes to macaws, then.
They are some of the largest popular parrots and have complex needs as far as owning them as a pet goes.
If you are thinking about getting a macaw, it’s really important that you understand the commitment it will be.
They are not low-maintenance pets, and you should only really get one if you have experience with other kinds of parrots.
But in any case, they certainly are parrots.