Making Friends with Freddie

Years ago someone gave my sister a macaw named Freddie. She and the bird had bonded, and I think the original owner just wasn’t interested enough to make enough time for being the owner of a bird like him. I will be honest and tell you that Freddie always kind of frightened me because, damn, his beak is BIG, and he is fast, and it was quite easy to tell that he did not have warm feelings toward me the way he does for my sister. I will also confess that I had essentially zero clue about parrots. I just knew I didn’t want to get bitten.

Freddie is a Buffon’s Macaw, aka Great Green Macaw, often confused with the smaller Military Macaw, which is what we thought Freddie was. Once I decided (recently) that I needed/wanted to be friends with Freddie, my research revealed that Freddie is, in fact, a Buffon’s Macaw.  In the picture below, you can see the grey ring around his pupil that is one of the things that differentiates the Buffon’s from the Military. We have other pictures where it’s clear that ring is steel gray. His tail feathers also match the Buffon’s Macaw red and green, as well. Not that it matters, other than for making sure we get the correct information about the care of his species. They are native to South America (Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Ecuador.)

The Buffon’s Macaw is now an endangered species, with only 1,000 or fewer birds left in the wild due to habitat destruction and poaching. According to his vet, he has none of the tattoos or bands that one finds on a bird brought into the United States legally. His vet believes Freddie was probably brought to the US some time in the 1970s. We have no information about him prior to my sister encountering Freddie and his previous owner. He is about 40 years old, and has a life span of 60-80 years.

Upper body of Freddie, A Buffon's Macaw showing his very very big beak. He is green, there is a red ruff above his beak, and his cheeks are reddish because he is interested in his photo being taken.

Freddie’s Beak is big

As you can see from the above picture, Freddie’s beak is indeed big. When my niece was 6 or 7 she put her finger into his cage and got bitten. Her finger was small, his beak is big. She had to go to the ER and has a scar to this day, more than ten years later. You can see that Freddie’s cheeks are reddish. That’s because he is very interested in this picture taking business. Normally, they’d be white. He is amusing himself on the side of a mostly decorative cage that on the deck. We put seed in it for wild birds.

In the picture below, you can see most of Freddie’s tail. The majority of it is in shadow, but you can see the red and blue side tail feathers. You can also see that he’s mostly a chartreuse/ bright green. And that he’s pretty big. He’s not the biggest of the macaws, but he’s not small.

He also doesn’t fly (doesn’t, not can’t) and the vet no longer feels his wings should be clipped. They haven’t been for some years.

 

Freddie the Buffon's Macaw on the side of a cage that is not his. You can't see his entire tail, sorry, but you can see the blue and red tail feathers.

Freddie.

Making Friends With Freddie

Anyway, I decided for lots of reasons that Freddie and I needed to be friends. First, because I like him, and he’s pretty, and we have a responsibility toward the animals in our care. But also because more than one person needs to be able to handle him. This is a bird that could, potentially, outlive me and my sister.

So. I began by watching loads of YouTube videos about Macaws. Freddie was aggressive toward me, but from those videos I learned how to make him comfortable around me.

My lightbulb moment came with me learning how to safely offer treats to a macaw. (Once you and the bird are in a comfortable, relaxed mood, you hold the treat just far enough away that the bird must stretch for the treat. That way, they can’t bite you.)

It was like magic. I can now give Freddie treats without asking him to stretch. I am, of course, learning to read his moods, which is also critical.

Parrots are foragers, so they are both entertained and interested in food they must work to get at. Today, for example, I made several DIY “toys” that required him to work to get the nut inside. This was super simple in that I wrapped a nut inside a clean sheet paper that he had to chew to get to the nut. This was also like magic. He was thrilled and engaged.

Then I took half a cardboard paper towel roll and showed him exactly how I was hiding a nut inside. I used paper to block one end, showed him that I was dropping a nut inside, then put paper in the other end, and plugged up that too. He was beside himself. There’s a happy cooing sort of noise that he makes when he’s happy and excited that that’s what he was doing.

I am also now able to give him head rubs. He shows me when he wants his head scratched and voila!

There’s a lot more friend-making we need to do, and I will be working toward learning how to get him to step up on my hand. This requires that I know what I need to do so keep him feeling safe and appropriately rewarded.

I’ll keep you posted!

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