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Red-bellied Macaw Chronicles Part 8: Young Red-bellied Macaws Join the Flock

Evet Loewen | Jan 05, 2015


Resumption of Storyline Begins Anew in 2015 

Well, how time flies when time flies! My apologies for the detritus of life interfering with the prompt posts to this blog.1

As a brief reprise, in Part 7 the theme was the temperament of Sophia, a wild caught Red-bellied Macaw that I had obtained in April, 2000. She was imported into Florida as evidenced by her open band (No. FKH 672) – at some point the band was removed, and it is still in my possession. She maintained her independence while also being cooperative. Requests definitely had to replace demands with her. The rest of the flock were relatively young and generally, though not always, accepting of her.

Some information on importation of this species provides a bit of context. If one does a rough calculation from the CITES trade database (, from 1981 through 19922 approximately 4,087 wild-caught Orthopsittaca manilata were imported from Guyana (as reported by the importer). There have been some live Red-bellied macaws (reported by importers in the number of 265) imported from Guyana up until 2012, perhaps the latest year of reporting. Some of these apparently were for trade or commercial purposes.3

So by the time the Wild Bird Conservation Act of 1992 came into play, about 4100 or so Red-bellied macaws had been imported into this country according to the CITES data base, looking solely at the import numbers and not considering any other factors. Eight years later, though, as I started to search for a male or female compatriot for Sophia, the species was already uncommon in aviculture.4 Being like so many other humans, if it is rare, if it is difficult to find, if it is mysterious, if it is difficult to keep for unknown reasons – why, I must be THE person to have one or two or three of them!

As noted in Part 4 of these Chronicles, in the spring of 2000 I was seriously spending time on the internet “researching” all the small macaws. My theory at the time, prior to becoming educated by real avian scientists and biologists, was that if the macaws were small they must all get along, right? I don’t think I was quite that naïve but in looking back there were a lot of assumptions made that really didn’t pan out.

So I found “Sophia” in one internet search, and had her in the multi-species flock by late April. Simultaneously, though, other inquiries were going forward. This was a pre-Google, pre-Bing, pre-practically any search engine except Internet Explorer and Netscape. So what I did was fairly clunky in comparison to what can be done today. I looked through compilations of aviaries and breeders that were put together on the web and either found references to Red-bellied macaws, or I simply randomly emailed breeders to see if they either had any or knew of someone who did.

There were very, very few references to anyone who owned a Red-bellied Macaw. Eventually I found one breeder who indicated that she had Red-bellied Macaws for sale -- very uncommon then, and probably unheard of today. Though my initial email correspondence was with Chrissie Bryant, I soon understood that Ana Bryant, her mother, was the one who was trying to breed the species and going through the difficulties of raising them.

I immediately emailed about these unusual mini-macaws in mid-April of 2000. It was very exciting when I received a reply. Correspondence then proceeded until on April 4, 2001. I brought home from Texas two young DNA-sexed female red-bellied macaws, Francie and her sibling Quattro. Not too much later I also paid for Quattro when the original party in California who had been interested in this young bird did not continue with the purchase.

In purchasing these two youngsters I became friendly with Ana, the breeder, and that friendly contact continues to this day. I learned quite a bit about the background of Francie and Quattro who were first generation captive Red-bellied macaws.

Ana Bryant and her family live in Alvin, Texas. She bred several different exotic species for a number of years and began breeding Red-bellied macaws in 1996.

Red-bellied macaws came to Ana and her daughter, Chrissie, through a gentleman named Roy Powers who also lived in Alvin. He had hundreds of birds, and had purchased two pair of these macaws at an auction. They were banded. He gave them initially to Ana’s daughter because the birds had papillomas, and he did not do any veterinary workup on them.5 He gave them to Ana and her daughter in April, 1995.6

Ana took these birds to her veterinarian, Dr. Gary Harwell of Southeast Animal Clinic in Houston, on December 18, 1995. The records of the exam indicate that three of the manilata had bands, and one, a female, did not. The veterinary records indicate as follows:

Male, Band No. FUD 781, treated for papillomas on 1/23/1996
Female, FJH 804, treated for papillomas, same date.
Male, FIC 322, Male, treated for papillomas, same date.
Female, no band, no evidence of papillomas, same date

These two pair were placed in an outdoor aviary on the side of her children’s fort where there was lots of activity. She noticed that they were clinging to the sides of the aviaries, in the corner furthest away from the activity outside. Solely to give them a place to hide in, she then placed a nestbox inside the cage.7 She found that they began laying eggs but that the eggs were broken as all four used the nestbox.

So Ana put a divider in the cage with a small door left open in between the two sides. Over the next few weeks they paired themselves up, one pair on each side. So she then placed another box on the opposite side. Right away they each started staying in their own box and so she shut the door between them. She then built them each a big aviary. No more broken eggs!8

The adults were fed a diet of seeds, sprouted sunflower seeds about every 2 to 3 days, and fresh fruit and vegetables daily.9

These two wild-caught pairs started laying in 1996. The young from pair one had blue bands, and from pair two the bands were red. Ana simply referred to the breeding birds as the “blue pair” (1) or the “red pair” (2). Ana informed me that Francie and Quattro were young from the “red” pair which she could determine from Francie’s band number that I was able to provide her. It is not clear from the records which of the banded adults were in the blue pair or the red pair.10

Recently I had additional correspondence with Ana11, who told me the following regarding her experience raising young Red-bellied macaws:

“I do not believe the (adult’s) papillomas had any affect on them whatsoever. I was told to hand feed the babies from day one to keep them from getting (the virus). Until I started using the sweet potatoes we lost quite a few to kidney problems. I also started letting the parents raise them for 2 weeks and that also helped them.”

“Hands down the diet was a problem with the babies. After much research, I decided to mix their formula half and half with pureed sweet potatoes. They did great after that. It was when they were weaned and on what the adults got that they started to have problems again.”

“Thank goodness you were able to figure that part of it out. Oddly enough, I did not lose an adult to the diet.”

Bringing these two young birds home started a period of steep learning as well as great enjoyment. They promptly went to Dr. Stern, then my principle avian veterinarian at For the Birds, on April 5, 2001. The first order of business, according to my veterinarian, was to modify the diet to include an organic juvenile formula.

The second order of business was a complete exam. Bloodwork was immediately drawn on Francie, and it was determined by April 18 that her uric acid level was 27.6 (normal range 2.5 to 4.5). A subsequent consultation with another Bay Area avian veterinarian with some experience with this species resulted in the administration of fresh flax seed oil daily, as that would assist in reducing inflammation in the kidneys and “cannot hurt at all” (an understatement given the specific dietary needs of the species). A very diluted aspirin formula was administered twice per day. Francie was started on this regimen immediately.

Quattro had bloodwork drawn on April 19, 2001, her first test since it was initially unclear whether this bird would stay with me. Francie also came in for a re-test of her UA levels. Both birds had been on a different juvenile formula for two weeks at this point in time. Quattro’s uric acid level on that date was 18.0. Francie’s had declined to 7.9.

Another re-check was carried out on May 19, 2001, when both youngsters had had the benefit of the different diet, the flax seed, and the diluted aspirin. Francie’s UA had declined to a level of 3.6, and Quattro’s to 8.6.

This was my rough introduction to the need of the species for oils high in essential fatty acids and betacarotenes. I didn’t understand it, really, only that they seemed better and the treating veterinarian was pleased with the results. I continued to administer flax seed oil and some hemp seed oil to these two young birds as they liked it. I don’t recall ever offering any to Sophia.

Kidney disease was the known nemesis of this species at the time. Diet is the one and only keystone. That and the extreme sensitivity of the species to stressful circumstances. There are hardly any owners that I’ve encountered, and even fewer veterinarians, that understand the meaning and impact of those three simple statements. It remains that way today.

For a few happy months, though, I had a family of three Red-bellied macaws at home. That, too, was a revelation for a novice birdkeeper like me. It was all new, and all fun.

Next up in Red-bellied Macaw Chronicles Part 9: A Family Life

Copyright © Evet Loewen. All parts of this blog including but not limited to the content written by the author, the photographs by the author, and data and information referred to or cited in this series of posts are copyrighted and may not be used for any purpose without the express consent of the author.


[1] This statement assumes that someone other than me is reading these posts. I will never truly know, of course. So if no one else is reading, then I readily accept my apology.
[2] 1992 is the year that the Wild Bird Conservation Act became effective. Fish and Wildlife webpage at
[3] If I correctly understand the tables. If I don’t it wouldn’t be the first time that I have not understood issues about trade and birds. A guide to use of the database is at
[4] A search of CITES database by the parameter of gross imports only gives an undoubtedly rough number of about 870 Hyacinth macaws being imported into this country from 1981 until 1992. The Red-bellied Macaws and the Hyacinth macaws are both highly specialized feeders but the latter numbers into the thousands in captivity. Red-bellied Macaws were very difficult to locate in aviculture by the year 2000. In comparison, the Severe Macaw (Ara severa) was imported in greater numbers from 1981-1992 (5,334), is a more generalized feeder, and is more readily available in aviculture.
[5] Notations in 1995 breeding records from Ana Bryant.
[6] Interview with Ana Bryant, 2/23/2012.
[7] Email correspondence with Ana Bryant on 1/2/2015.
[8] Phone call with Ana Bryant on 2/25/2012.
[9] Ana had great difficulty getting the young to survive though these two pair had numerous clutches. Eggs cracked; some young died in the shell; some hatched and seemed fine, but she would then discover that a chick had suddenly died overnight.
[10] In response, Ana did an enormous amount of research with other breeders, tried to find veterinarians that had treated the species, and took ill birds or ones that had died to Texas A&M to find out what might be going wrong. She became convinced that diet was key and did her level best to understand why and modify the circumstances for her birds. Few individuals that I’ve met worked as hard as Ana in educating herself to ascertain why the species was so difficult to breed.
[11] Email correspondence with Ana Bryant on 1/2/2015.