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Blue-Headed (Coulon’s) Macaw

Nicole Cosgrove

Closely related to other mini macaws, the blue-headed macaw or Coulon’s macaw is a rare South American macaw that’s named for its stunning blue markings. With its small size, vibrant colors, and affectionate personality, the blue-headed macaw is a popular pet bird that can provide years of love and companionship to a dedicated owner. Find out everything you need to know about keeping and caring for the blue-headed macaw.

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Species Overview

Common Names: Blue-headed macaw, Coulon’s macaw, mini macaw
Scientific Name: Primolius coloni
Adult Size: 15.6 to 16 inches long from head to tail, 7.3 to 10.4 ounces in weight
Life Expectancy: 30 to 35 years in the wild, 50 years in captivity

Origin and History

Named in honor of Swiss naturalist Paul Louis Coulon, the Coulon’s macaw, or blue-headed macaw, is endemic to southwestern Amazonia and the east Andean foothills. Most wild birds are found in Peru and parts of Brazil and Bolivia. Their preferred natural habitat is the humid lowland forests along rivers and swamps.

Though once commonly found in the wild, habitat destruction and the exotic pet trade have made the blue-headed macaw a threatened species. Now, the declining wild population is estimated to be between 9,200 and 46,000 individuals.

The capture of wild individuals for the pet trade is a huge problem for conservation. The blue-headed macaw is rare in captivity, leading to many wild birds in the illegal pet trade.

Temperament

Like other macaws, the blue-headed macaw is a social and affectionate bird that takes well to captivity and handling. These birds often get attached to their owners and become excellent companion animals.

Keeping an exotic bird can be time consuming and expensive, however. Large birds like the blue-headed macaw require a lot of time for play and socialization, regular veterinary visits, and plenty of environmental enrichment.

Pros
  • Blue-headed macaws live about 50 years in captivity, whereas other macaws may live up to 90 years.
  • Blue-headed macaws are affectionate and intelligent.
  • Blue-headed macaws have beautiful colors and markings.
Cons
  • Blue-headed macaws can be loud and irritating.
  • Blue-headed macaws are prone to some serious health conditions and boredom- and stress-related behaviors.

Speech & Vocalizations

The blue-headed macaw is known for its quiet, purring call while in flight. At rest, the macaw makes soft nasal sounds, squawks, and shrieks. Though the bird can be loud and rowdy at times, it’s less boisterous than the popular blue-winged macaw. Generally, these birds are considered moderately noisy for the macaw group. Some individuals may attempt to mimic human or ambient noises.

Blue-Headed (Coulon’s) Macaw Colors and Markings

Renowned for its distinctive coloration, the blue-headed macaw has green plumage with vibrant blue markings on the forehead, crown, and sides of the head. The flight feathers are also blue with yellow underneath. The edge of the wing and coverts are a combination of blue and green. Some individuals have a deep maroon tail that fades to green and blue near the tip. The bill is black and ivory, fading into a black or gray area near the eyes. The bird’s eyes are yellow and orange.

Most blue-headed macaws will have these general colors and markings, though individuals may have more striking color contrast. Some individuals may have muted colors or less blue.

Related Read: Ruby Macaw

divider-birdCaring for the Blue-Headed (Coulon’s) Macaw

Blue-headed macaws are hardy birds and excellent for beginner bird keepers. They can grow up to 16 inches and require large cages with plenty of branches, vines, a water basin, and a secure lock to avoid escape. The bottom can be lined with coconut husk, bark, wood shavings, or puppy pads to absorb urine. Your cage should be kept out of high-traffic areas and away from direct sunlight to reduce stress.

Blue-headed macaws are social birds and may live up to 50 individuals in the wild. In captivity, the macaw may benefit from having a partner or two in a large cage or aviary. If you’re planning to keep a few birds together, you need to provide a large enough cage for each bird to have its own space and avoid territorial behaviors.

Birds bond with their owners, so before choosing to bring home a blue-headed macaw, be sure you can devote several hours to your bird’s handling, exercise, and enrichment. You’ll also need to clean the cage regularly and provide food and water for optimal health. Ideally, the water basin should be cleaned and filled with fresh water twice daily.

Though blue-headed macaws are a hardy species, your bird must have an examination from a qualified avian veterinarian every six months. During the exam, your veterinarian will check for bacterial or parasitic infections and vaccinate against common diseases. Birds also need nail and wing trimming.

Common Health Problems

Though a generally healthy and hardy species, the blue-headed macaw is prone to several health problems, such as:

  • Avian polyomavirus, an infectious disease that can be fatal in young birds. Symptoms of this disease include inappetence, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and a swollen abdomen. This disease is zoonotic, meaning it can be transferred from animals to humans. Fortunately, your bird can be vaccinated against avian polyomavirus.
  • Giardia, a parasitic infection that can pass to other birds, usually through feces. Symptoms of giardia include diarrhea, skin irritation, weight loss, constipation, and depression. If the infection was caused by a contaminated water supply, giardia is communicable to humans.
  • Psittacosis, an infectious disease found in most bird species. Spread through contact with infected bird feces, psittacosis symptoms include respiratory issues, watery stool, eye and nose discharge, inappetence, and lethargy. Psittacosis is highly contagious to humans, so it’s best to take precautions when cleaning or feeding.
  • Pacheco’s disease, a fatal disease caused by the herpes virus. This disease is spread through contact with feces or nasal discharge of an infected bird. Like other herpes viruses, Pacheco’s disease may be dormant and flare during times of stress, such as losing a mate or moving. Symptoms include anorexia, sinusitis, tremors, and lethargy. This disease cannot be transmitted to humans.

Diet and Nutrition

The blue-headed macaw’s diet consists of greens, seeds, nuts, and fruits. Insects may make up a small portion of the diet, especially with younger birds. Captive birds should have a high-quality seed mix that contains a variety of oat and hemp seeds, millet, sunflower and safflower seeds, and fresh fruits and vegetables.

Most captive birds need mineral supplements. Clay licks contain a high concentration of minerals and satisfy your bird’s mineral needs while protecting against naturally occurring toxins in the diet. You can supplement with hemp seeds, which contain a range of trace minerals, a complete amino acid profile, and omega 3 and 6 fatty acids.

Exercise

Wild macaws travel miles in search of food, shelter, and mates. Captive birds get less exercise than their wild counterparts, which can lead to conditions like heart disease, obesity, stress, and behavioral problems. You can keep your bird healthy by providing it with as large a cage as possible and plenty of environmental enrichment, such as toys, swings, ladders, and multi-level perches. If possible, give your bird an aviary for some free flying time or get a flight harness and allow your bird to fly outside. You can teach your bird tricks to give it mental and physical exercise.

Where to Adopt or Buy a Blue-Headed (Coulon’s) Macaw

Blue-headed macaws are available through breeders, specialized pet stores, or rescue organizations. Because of its rarity, the macaw can cost between $1,000 and $1,500. The price can vary according to the gender, age, appearance, and health of the bird.

If you prefer to adopt, blue-head macaws are often available through bird adoption or rescue groups. With their long lifespans, birds often outlive owners and end up in a rescue. Whether you purchase or adopt, be sure to get a veterinary checkup and quarantine your bird to avoid spreading disease throughout your collection or human family members.

divider-birdsConclusion

The blue-headed macaw makes an excellent pet for beginner and experienced bird owners alike. Like other macaws, the blue-headed macaw boasts stunning colors and plenty of personality in a smaller package, making it one of the most popular and coveted birds for pet owners. Whether you’re looking to get your first macaw or want to add a beautiful and social bird to your collection, the blue-headed macaw is an excellent choice.


Featured Image Credit: Danny Ye, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.