Breeding Ara Macao in an Indoor Facility

Cheryle L. Jones


Many years ago when I saw Ara macao for the first time, I was awestruck by their beauty and regalness. From that introduction, I had the opportunity to enjoy the spirited and spunky personalities of individual Scarlets. However, it was not until 1985, when the Scarlet Macaw was placed on Appendix I of CITES, that I began to realize the importance of pairing these individuals for breeding.

Indoor Versus Outdoor Breeding

In the northwestern area of Washington State, temperatures can be below freezing for much of the winter and can reach sub-zero temperatures for days, even weeks, at a time. Consequently, an indoor breeding facility is a must.

There are some positive points to indoor breeding. Small rodents and insects are rarely a problem, and birds escaping from the aviary are easily retrieved. The keeper can manipulate daylight hours if so desired, and security is less of a problem as the birds are generally undetected by the casual observer just passing by.

However, those of us who breed birds indoors face unique challenges as we strive to provide a healthy environment for our birds. Before deciding to breed macaws or any other large psittacine indoors, the following items should be considered: space required, noise level, ease of cleaning, lighting, air circulation, and heating/ air conditioning.

The Facility

My macaws are housed in a 1500 square foot area that is located in the lower level of my house. This lower level is referred to as a '' daylight basement," partially above ground and partially below ground. This arrangement seems to be more conducive to efficiency of temperature control than a separate building completely above ground. However, you need to consider the increased noise level. Acoustical tiles can be added to the ceiling of the lower level to considerably decrease the noise on the upper level.

The lower walls and floor are constructed of cement. The floors contain a drainage system; thus, the cages and floors can be easily cleaned by hosing with hot water, and all birds can be misted on a regular basis.

Windows are positioned so that each pair of macaws has access to natural light and a view of the outdoors. All windows are screened and left open when weather permits. This provides not only a physical benefit to the birds but a psychological one as well. (Keep in mind that open windows increase the noise level to neighbors close by.) All birds are also provided with overhead, fullspectrum lighting.

Housing/Nest Boxes

Each pair of Scarlet Macaws is housed in an 8' long x 4' wide x 6' high cage constructed of 10 gauge, l " x 3" galvanized wire. Each is a single, free-standing unit, but pairs are in full sight of one another. The entrance door is 60" high by 18" wide, allowing access to the inside of the cage. Two by fours are used for perches and are placed at about four and a half feet above ground level at each end of the cage. They are hung by joist brackets and easily replaced.


Fifty gallon oak barrels serve as nest boxes. Due to the weight of the barrels, I prefer to place them on a raised platform outside of the cage rather than hanging them. They are positioned vertically at the upper rear of the unit's left side. A 6" diameter entrance hole is placed in the upper third of the nest box with an inspection door at the top. The nest box is filled with cedar shavings (thoroughly aired) to about one-third high. The birds will modify the entrance hole and eliminate shavings to meet their needs.

All of my Scarlets, whether wildcaught or domestically-bred, are at least semi-tame. Even though I have access to feed from the outside of the cages, the birds are used to me entering to clean and replace perches. This is a practice I continue throughout the breeding season. I also add daily nest inspections. Although the Scarlets become much more aggressive when breeding, they have come to know my interferences are simply routine.


My Scarlet Macaws are fed a diet of approximately 65% Roudybush maintenance pellets and 35% soft foods (fruits, vegetables, bean mix, etc.) during the non-breeding season. They are also given a few nuts (peanuts, Brazil, pecans, walnuts, filberts,almonds) on a daily basis. During the breeding season, the amount of soft foods given is increased to at least 50% of the daily diet. Roudybush breeder pellets are also substituted at this time for increased protein. Manu Mineral Blocks are always available.

The temperature of the breeding area remains at a constant 62° to 63° Fahrenheit throughout most of the year with minimal use of artificial heating during the winter months. On hot summer days, even with the windows remaining open for air circulation, the temperature rarely rises above 75° to 79° Fahrenheit due to air conditioning on the upper level.

Humidity remains at 55% to 65% much of the year. This is temporarily increased once to twice weekly when birds are misted and cages hosed for cleaning.

The macaws are provided with natural light which is supplemented with full-spectrum lighting for 13 to 14 hours daily. This is gradually increased to 16 hours daily to induce breeding. It has been my experience that this is the most important single factor in encouraging macaws to breed.

The Nursery

My avian nursery is located in a separate room on the upper level of my home, away from the breeding area. It is beneficial to have the nursery located between two other rooms rather than on an outside corner of the house as it is easier to maintain a constant temperature during extreme cold or hot weather. The temperature is kept at 69° to 70° Fahrenheit, and the humidity is generally at about 60%.


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