Big Beak O Phobes Guide to Understanding Macaw Beaks...

Birdman666

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Presently have six Greenwing Macaw (17 yo), Red Fronted Macaw (12 yo), Red Lored Amazon (17 y.o.), Lilac Crowned Amazon (about 43 y.o.) and a Congo African Grey (11 y.o.)
Panama Amazon (1 Y.O.)
I wrote most of this as a response to another thread, but felt it deserved its own separate thread, since the subject of how to deal with macaw beaks comes up fairly often.

Most big beak o phobes see a macaw beak coming at them and think, "Holy $#@& that bird's about to bite me!"

While that big beak is occasionally used as a weapon, that's fairly rare. More often than not, it's used to test. To see how you react, what you do, before deciding what they will do next. You can tell a lot about a person by how they react to something unexpected. And THIS could be a determining factor on whether or not, or how, the bird decides to react to you, and interact with you. It could be an invitation to beak wrestle and play... but since you jumped, and/or became defensive, you get the "big bad bird" routine instead.

How can you tell the difference? The correct response to the big bad bird routine, is to counter with a head snaking movement of your own, while making your eyes really big. Aside from making you appear like an idiot to any humans who are casually observing this, it sends the correct message to the bird. I didn't come to fight. I came to see if you wanted to play. Usually they'll start doing the macaw head snake/happy head bob, excitement thing at that point, and this is an indication that the bird has accepted your invitation to play. (It's also an indication that he's now wound up. Always carefully gauge how wound up he is, before offering an arm. Overstimulated birds sometimes don't control their bite pressure very well.) If the bird is still acting piss-ey at that point, then the correct response is to use the palm of your hand on a closed bent fist, and just nonchalantly push the beak away when he lunges. The message that sends is (1) I am not intimidated or afraid of you, and (2) knock it off! Then just walk away and ignore the bird for awhile. (Because the worst possible thing you can do to a macaw psychologically is to ignore it!)

It can be used as a territorial warning as well. Diving against the bar of the cage, for example, doesn't necessarily mean the bird doesn't like you. It usually means the bird is either cage bound or cage territorial. Once in awhile, it's "Hey buddy, I live here. Respect my space. You're too close to my nest." (With my greenwing it generally means "I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU ACTUALLY CLOSED THE DOOR ON ME!")

When you think of a macaw beak, you have to think of it as a multi-purpose tool.

It's primarily a third hand used for climbing (and that sometimes includes climbing onto an arm to step up.)

It can be used as a crow bar to pry things loose.

The sharp point on the end of it can puncture and slice things open. (Fruits primarily, but flesh if you're careless, or push your luck.)

It is used to test the strength of things before stepping on them. Including arms. He just wanted to make sure you wouldn't pull away when he went to step up. And you did, so he grabbed you, and made sure you couldn't. That isn't a bite. That's you NOT HOLDING STILL... A macaw is not going to risk "doing the splits" just because you get nervous. (He will simply refuse to cooperate at that point. That's a double whammy, because if this happens too often, you reinforce the notion that, he then can pick and choose when he feels like cooperating. Behavior problems usually follow that line of thought. "No. I don't wanna. Let's see you try and make me." (Gulp!)

The beak is also used as a vice grip pliers to hold onto things, and a pry them open. And it's used to crack and crush things like nut shells... (or fingers that are someplace they are not supposed to be and/or are annoying us.) Or, in the case of a misbehaving bird, "I DON'T WANT TO GO BACK...I DON'T WANT TO COME DOWN."

The "beakier" macaws are generally just especially coordinated with their beaks, and tend to use the beaks as a first option, before they use their feet. The beakier macaws also tend to be "a tad" less patient, so when you "argue" with them, while they're putting their beaks on you, they tend to be a little more forceful about it.

(Yeah, don't try pulling your arm away from a buffons or a scarlett after asking him to step up. Cuz they'll grab your arm first with their beak, and hold it steady while they step up... how hard they have to hold it to keep it steady, is completely up to you.) In fact, if a buffons sees you doing that to him, his face will likely turn bright red the second you pull away. That most definitely does not mean he's happy to see you. (That would be a blue throat or a red front with a face turning red.) When a military or a buffons face turns red - Watch out! "THE Volcano is about to blow it's top!

And beaky big macs are more likely to use their beaks to communicate:

Pinch! Hey, I like that. Share some of that stuff you're eating with me.

Pinch! Let's go outside for a walk.

Pinch! I don't like that scarey thing. Don't you see how scarey that is? Pinch, get away from it. Can't you tell I'm trying to protect you?

Pinch! Pay some attention to me.

Pinch! Not now. I'm not interested.

HARD PINCH and/or BLOOD DRAW: What part of NOT NOW didn't you understand?! Can't you take a hint?! Must I draw blood to make my point?!
 
Last edited:
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Birdman666

Birdman666

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Presently have six Greenwing Macaw (17 yo), Red Fronted Macaw (12 yo), Red Lored Amazon (17 y.o.), Lilac Crowned Amazon (about 43 y.o.) and a Congo African Grey (11 y.o.)
Panama Amazon (1 Y.O.)
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THANKS!

I've probably played with my big macs the most over the years. I was pretty much the "favorite macaw toy" down at the rescue.

Fortunately, I was more "interactive playstand" than chew toy. MY SHIRTS! Those were the chew toys/tug of war toys... :D
 

rowdy

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Wow this helped me understand so much about my "little" baby. Now to explain to my dad "he isnt lunging at you when you put your hand near his cage because he doesnt like you, its because hes been locked up for 24 years, he does it to me too" just to work through this "slight" problem with him
 

Captsteve

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Mark,

I may need some direction when I get home the first part of the month to help my wife with a couple issues she has with her scarlet. I'll let ya know!
 

OOwl

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Thank you, Sir. An elderly family member has a severe macaw (yes, I know their reputation, and, yes, he has literally decades of experience so it works for them). While I hope this family member lives forever and I never have to become this bird's caregiver, I know that's my probable future, and I am willing to do it. So, I have been reading everything I can about macaws, and I will attempt to build a relationship with this bird. Admittedly, they're not my first choice as a parrot companion, but I am willing to learn, and I better get busy on it now. I, therefore, appreciate your advice here. While mini macaws don't really have that "big beak," I still just don't really "speak" macaw and never have. I have wonderful, satisfying relationships with my cockatoo, grey, lovebird, and parrotlet, but I have a lot to learn about macaws. Thank you for graciously sharing your expertise.
 
OP
Birdman666

Birdman666

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Presently have six Greenwing Macaw (17 yo), Red Fronted Macaw (12 yo), Red Lored Amazon (17 y.o.), Lilac Crowned Amazon (about 43 y.o.) and a Congo African Grey (11 y.o.)
Panama Amazon (1 Y.O.)
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MINI MACS HAVE BIGGER ATTITUDES THAN BIG MACS...

They have to prove to you that they can be just as tough as the big boys.

A greenwing just knows... and knows you know... he doesn't feel the need to prove anything. (But he will demonstrate it, if you push him too far, or too fast.)

Severe's can have overbonding issues. They need extra socialization. (And usually don't get it. Hence their reputation.)
 
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Birdman666

Birdman666

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Presently have six Greenwing Macaw (17 yo), Red Fronted Macaw (12 yo), Red Lored Amazon (17 y.o.), Lilac Crowned Amazon (about 43 y.o.) and a Congo African Grey (11 y.o.)
Panama Amazon (1 Y.O.)
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Wow this helped me understand so much about my "little" baby. Now to explain to my dad "he isnt lunging at you when you put your hand near his cage because he doesnt like you, its because hes been locked up for 24 years, he does it to me too" just to work through this "slight" problem with him

I had you, and three or four other people in mind when I decided to expand the topic into it's own thread.

Yeah, your bird is definitely cage bound, and cage territorial. IT'S NOT PERSONAL. THE TERRITORY IS THE TRIGGER!!! GETTING HIM AWAY FROM THE TERRITIORY = THERE IS NOTHING TO DEFEND. THEREFORE, THE BAD BEHAVIORS QUICKLY SUBSIDE. And that's why you work with cage bound birds away from (out of sight of) the cage.
 
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junglenutcracker

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Thanks Birdman666!
You are providing us “new big mac owners” with great advice. Have to tell you that I’ve been putting a lot of these into practice as I continue working on my relationship with our GW. Thanks for sharing your Big-mac knowledge and experience with us!

We’ve now had our GW for about 10 weeks now. She used to be quite aggressive ...lunging (and not just bluffing) and digging in real hard with that beak of hers. She now enjoys having me scratch her head and neck and lets me pick her up without bitting as much as before. She’s not a mush mac just yet...but we’re making progress. The attached pic is how the sleeve of one of my shirt looks after earlier attempts to pick her up in the first weeks. Yep! That pointy beak can really leave a few marks! Glad I had some pieces of foam underneath that sleeve! I don’t use it anymore as I feel she may have been attacking it out of fear more than anything else. Building that trust is the way to go...and it does work both ways.
 

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kq_fan

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That is perfect! Thank you for posting this! I'm never around macaws but when I am, I will have this info so I dont make that bird mad! :)
 

StephenAndKyleigh

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Rememeber when I said the Birdman for the goooaall? You've done it again my friend
 

JerseyWendy

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Awesome write-up, Mark!!! :D So awesome that we 'stuck' it! It will now stay on top and will always be super easy to find.
 

Weezerj

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Great thread, just one follow up question from me.

When playing with my Illigers macaw, he likes to use his beak. He will grab my fingers, and also try to rub his beak against the side of my fingers in a lunging type motion (he isn't trying to bite at all, more like scrape).

My question is, as long as he controls his pressure (he doesn't get over-excited) is this type of playing ok/encouraged?
 
OP
Birdman666

Birdman666

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Presently have six Greenwing Macaw (17 yo), Red Fronted Macaw (12 yo), Red Lored Amazon (17 y.o.), Lilac Crowned Amazon (about 43 y.o.) and a Congo African Grey (11 y.o.)
Panama Amazon (1 Y.O.)
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Great thread, just one follow up question from me.

When playing with my Illigers macaw, he likes to use his beak. He will grab my fingers, and also try to rub his beak against the side of my fingers in a lunging type motion (he isn't trying to bite at all, more like scrape).

My question is, as long as he controls his pressure (he doesn't get over-excited) is this type of playing ok/encouraged?

Yes. Of course.
 

JackTheParrotLover

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Feb 13, 2016
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I wrote most of this as a response to another thread, but felt it deserved its own separate thread, since the subject of how to deal with macaw beaks comes up fairly often.

Most big beak o phobes see a macaw beak coming at them and think, "Holy $#@& that bird's about to bite me!"

While that big beak is occasionally used as a weapon, that's fairly rare. More often than not, it's used to test. To see how you react, what you do, before deciding what they will do next. You can tell a lot about a person by how they react to something unexpected. And THIS could be a determining factor on whether or not, or how, the bird decides to react to you, and interact with you. It could be an invitation to beak wrestle and play... but since you jumped, and/or became defensive, you get the "big bad bird" routine instead.


How can you tell the difference? The correct response to the big bad bird routine, is to counter with a head snaking movement of your own, while making your eyes really big. Aside from making you appear like an idiot to any humans who are casually observing this, it sends the correct message to the bird. I didn't come to fight. I came to see if you wanted to play. Usually they'll start doing the macaw head snake/happy head bob, excitement thing at that point, and this is an indication that the bird has accepted your invitation to play. (It's also an indication that he's now wound up. Always carefully gauge how wound up he is, before offering an arm. Overstimulated birds sometimes don't control their bite pressure very well.) If the bird is still acting piss-ey at that point, then the correct response is to use the palm of your hand on a closed bent fist, and just nonchalantly push the beak away when he lunges. The message that sends is (1) I am not intimidated or afraid of you, and (2) knock it off! Then just walk away and ignore the bird for awhile. (Because the worst possible thing you can do to a macaw psychologically is to ignore it!)

It can be used as a territorial warning as well. Diving against the bar of the cage, for example, doesn't necessarily mean the bird doesn't like you. It usually means the bird is either cage bound or cage territorial. Once in awhile, it's "Hey buddy, I live here. Respect my space. You're too close to my nest." (With my greenwing it generally means "I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU ACTUALLY CLOSED THE DOOR ON ME!")

When you think of a macaw beak, you have to think of it as a multi-purpose tool.

It's primarily a third hand used for climbing (and that sometimes includes climbing onto an arm to step up.)

It can be used as a crow bar to pry things loose.

The sharp point on the end of it can puncture and slice things open. (Fruits primarily, but flesh if you're careless, or push your luck.)

It is used to test the strength of things before stepping on them. Including arms. He just wanted to make sure you wouldn't pull away when he went to step up. And you did, so he grabbed you, and made sure you couldn't. That isn't a bite. That's you NOT HOLDING STILL... A macaw is not going to risk "doing the splits" just because you get nervous. (He will simply refuse to cooperate at that point. That's a double whammy, because if this happens too often, you reinforce the notion that, he then can pick and choose when he feels like cooperating. Behavior problems usually follow that line of thought. "No. I don't wanna. Let's see you try and make me." (Gulp!)

The beak is also used as a vice grip pliers to hold onto things, and a pry them open. And it's used to crack and crush things like nut shells... (or fingers that are someplace they are not supposed to be and/or are annoying us.) Or, in the case of a misbehaving bird, "I DON'T WANT TO GO BACK...I DON'T WANT TO COME DOWN."

The "beakier" macaws are generally just especially coordinated with their beaks, and tend to use the beaks as a first option, before they use their feet. The beakier macaws also tend to be "a tad" less patient, so when you "argue" with them, while they're putting their beaks on you, they tend to be a little more forceful about it.

(Yeah, don't try pulling your arm away from a buffons or a scarlett after asking him to step up. Cuz they'll grab your arm first with their beak, and hold it steady while they step up... how hard they have to hold it to keep it steady, is completely up to you.) In fact, if a buffons sees you doing that to him, his face will likely turn bright red the second you pull away. That most definitely does not mean he's happy to see you. (That would be a blue throat or a red front with a face turning red.) When a military or a buffons face turns red - Watch out! "THE Volcano is about to blow it's top!

And beaky big macs are more likely to use their beaks to communicate:

Pinch! Hey, I like that. Share some of that stuff you're eating with me.

Pinch! Let's go outside for a walk.

Pinch! I don't like that scarey thing. Don't you see how scarey that is? Pinch, get away from it. Can't you tell I'm trying to protect you?

Pinch! Pay some attention to me.

Pinch! Not now. I'm not interested.

HARD PINCH and/or BLOOD DRAW: What part of NOT NOW didn't you understand?! Can't you take a hint?! Must I draw blood to make my point?!

What if you've already made the "flinch" mistake? Is it to late? (I'm dealing with a :blue1:
 

Anansi

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No, there's no "too late" in this. The more you've made the mistake is the more ground you might need to cover, of course, but it's nothing that persistence and consistency can't overcome.
 
OP
Birdman666

Birdman666

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Presently have six Greenwing Macaw (17 yo), Red Fronted Macaw (12 yo), Red Lored Amazon (17 y.o.), Lilac Crowned Amazon (about 43 y.o.) and a Congo African Grey (11 y.o.)
Panama Amazon (1 Y.O.)
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NO, BUT THE BIRD WILL LIKELY CONTINUE TO TEST, UNTIL YOU CONFIRM THAT YOU'RE NOT GOING TO JUMP ANYMORE...

All you really did was put a target on your chest. I'LL HAVE SOME MORE OF THIS PLEASE!

Once you're confident with the bird, and the bird is confident with you, it generally won't happen anymore (or at least not as much) except when you're playing.
 

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