The macaw: a very intelligent bird

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In addition to its dazzling beauty, the macaw has an amazing intelligence. Unfortunately, it is one of the most endangered land birds in the world.

The macaw is a bird that is part of the psittacidae family. This family includes other birds such as parrots, parakeets and cockatoos. Psittacidae are perhaps the most charismatic and popular family of birds on the planet.

The charisma and great affection they arouse in people is mainly due to their intelligence. Because these birds, it is well known, are capable of solving problems and learning from experience. It is particularly impressive to see that they can share the knowledge learned with other members of their species.

Physical traits of the macaw

The birds of this family are a group of famous and easily recognizable birds due to their characteristic curved hook-shaped beak. Their multicolored plumage also stands out, with a predominance of green tones and color accents such as red, yellow, blue, purple and brown. Their color undoubtedly allows them to blend into the color of the flowers and foliage of the trees in which they live.

Psittacidae are also characterized by their vocalizations and their ability to imitate the voice of humans. This skill has turned them into a sought-after pet, due to the empathy they generate.

In the psittaciformes, the fingers of the legs are made in this way: two go forward and two backwards, which allows them to handle tools, like primates.

Characteristics of the macaw

Biology and behavior

The macaw has a late maturity. In general, females leave their homes around 4 years of age, when they reach sexual maturity. During this long period, their parents will no longer lay eggs. This pattern of behavior reflects the importance for females to learn from their progenitors.

Furthermore, they live in complex social structures, from 25 to 50 individuals. It is a very effective strategy to protect yourself from predators. Macaws also form monogamous couples for life. These traits, in addition to the large size of their brain, linked to their body weight, make them meet all the conditions related to the development of complex cognition .

The wild macaw can live, on average, around 40-50 years, while the captive one, with appropriate care, can live up to 70 years.

Colorful beauty and intelligence

Psittaciformes have always been considered as primates among bird species. The proportion between the size of their brain and that of their body is clearly comparable to that of the great apes.

In the psittaciforme family, the intelligence of birds does not only manifest itself through their ability to learn to imitate sounds. Some species like the Kea ( Nestor notabilis ) also have great skill in the use of tools, a bit like the great anthropomorphic apes.

Yellow macaw

What does science say about macaw intelligence?

There is a research group that studies in the Loro Parque Zoo in Tenerife, Spain. The group is studying the evolution of complex cognition in birds.

Currently, the laboratory houses green macaws ( Ara ambiguus ), blue-throated macaws ( Ara glaucogularis ), red-fronted macaws ( Ara rubrogenys ) and blue-headed macaws ( Primolius couloni ).

The laboratory has published a series of comparative studies, among which we can highlight a report on the making of “economic decisions”.

It is interesting to know that  this decision-making refers to the ability to weigh different beneficial alternatives and to choose the one that offers the greatest profitability.

This situation sometimes requires giving up the desire for immediate satisfaction. This ability represents a cognitive challenge because it does not only require inhibiting impulses. It also requires, indeed, to evaluate the expected results to see if it is worth the wait.

What were the decision-making tests?

The experiments consisted in subjecting four species of macaws to a task of exchanging cards. Initially, the birds were trained to exchange three types of cards based on low, medium and high value foods. All have learned to trade them in a specific order, according to their value.

Then the birds found themselves in the situation of choosing between a low value food and a card that could be exchanged for better quality food. In these tests, all species were able to decide economically. However, only the great macaw species surpassed the others in one of the crucial controls