Macaw vs. Parrot: What’s the Difference?

Macaw vs parrot

When people think of colorful and smart birds, macaws and parrots often come to mind. But while these terms are sometimes used interchangeably, there are clear differences between them.

Native to the Americas, macaws are a type of parrot that are larger, with longer tails, thicker beaks, and distinctive patches of bare skin on their faces.

Meanwhile, parrots include a wider variety of species found worldwide, like macaws, parakeets, African greys, and cockatoos. They’re usually smaller than macaws, lack the bare face spots, and come in various sizes and colors.

This article will discuss the main differences between macaws and other parrots, including their physical traits, diet, price, and more. So, if you’re curious about what makes each of them special, keep reading.

Summary of Macaw vs. Parrot

Macaw isolated on white backgroundGroup of different parrots
A group of colorful, long-tailed New World parrots
Belong to the Psittaciformes order, which consists of over 350 different bird species, such as macaws, cockatoos, and parakeets
12–40 in (30.4–101.6 cm)
3.4–25 in (8.6–63.5 cm)
32–56 oz (900–1600 g)
0.4–141 oz (12–4000 g)
Typically larger in size and wingspan, with longer tails
Generally smaller in size compared to macaws, with a wide range of colors, including green, blue, red, and yellow
Found in Central and South America, typically in rainforests and woodlands
Found across the globe, with various species inhabiting different ecosystems, including forests, grasslands, and urban areas
Known for their loud calls, squawks, and screams
Varied vocalizations, including chirps, squawks, screeches, and whistles
Social birds that live in flocks; can be very affectionate and require a lot of attention
Behavior varies widely; some species are solitary or pair-bonded, while others are highly social
Highly intelligent birds, capable of problem-solving and learning complex tasks
Considered among the most intelligent birds; capable of learning tricks, mimicking sounds, and problem-solving
Seeds, nuts, fruits, flowers, leaves, stems, and occasionally insects
Seeds, nuts, fruit, nectar, and insects
30–50 years
10–30 years
Suitability as Pets:
Require a lot of space, mental stimulation, and social interaction; best for experienced bird owners
Suitability as Pets:
Suitability varies; some species are easy to care for and good for beginners, while others require more experience and resources

Understanding Macaws and Parrots

Before diving into the differences between these birds, it’s important to remember that while all macaws are parrots, not every parrot is a macaw. 

This bit of info is very helpful for understanding the wide world of these colorful birds. With that, let’s break down what macaws and parrots are all about.

What Is a Macaw?

A macaw is a large, colorful parrot native to Central and South America. These birds are known for their vibrant plumage, strong beaks, and long tails.

Macaws are highly social and intelligent birds, often found in pairs or flocks in their natural habitats, which include rainforests and woodlands.

Just like most parrot species, they can mimic human speech, making them favored pets.

If you’d like to know more about these beautiful birds, check out this informative video:

What Is a Parrot?

Parrots include a wide variety of birds belonging to the order Psittaciformes, like macaws, parakeets, lovebirds, lorikeets, African greys, cockatoos, galahs, corellas, and the New Zealand natives like the Kea, Kakapo, and Kaka.

These birds are characterized by their curved beaks, colorful plumage, and zygodactyl feet (two toes pointing forward and two backward), which make them excellent climbers.

Parrots are found in various habitats around the world, especially in tropical and subtropical regions. They come in various sizes, ranging from small species like budgerigars to large ones like cockatoos.

Due to their intelligence, sociability, and ability to mimic sounds, parrots are popular as pets, but they require careful attention and interaction to thrive in captivity.

Key Differences Between Macaws and Parrots

When comparing macaws to other parrots, you’ll notice some interesting differences. Despite belonging to the same parrot family, macaws have their own unique traits that set them apart from their parrot cousins.

1. Size and Weight

Two bright yellow parrots sitting together

Macaws are the giants in the parrot family. They come in different sizes, but they’re generally on the larger side.

For example, the smallest macaw, the Hahn’s Macaw, is about 12 inches long, while the biggest, the Hyacinth Macaw, can reach up to 40 inches in length. They’re also pretty hefty, averaging between 32 and 56 ounces.

Parrots, on the other hand, are a mixed bag when it comes to their size and weight.

They can be really tiny like the Buff-faced Pygmy Parrot, which is only 3.4 inches long and nearly fits in your pocket. At just 0.4 ounces, it’s lighter than a standard deck of cards.

Then, there are the heavier hitters like the Kakapo, which measures up to 25 inches in length and weighs significantly more, tipping the scales at around 141 ounces.

Overall, parrots vary widely in size, but as a group, they generally don’t reach the size of the largest macaws.

2. Physical Characteristics

A group of colorful macaws on the tree

Macaws stand out in the parrot family thanks to a few key physical features. First up, their beaks are huge and super strong, perfect for cracking open the toughest nuts and seeds.

Then there are their tails — long, beautiful, and often just as colorful as the rest of them, sometimes even longer than their bodies!

Speaking of color, macaws are the kings and queens of color in the parrot family, showing off in bright blues, reds, greens, and yellows. They’ve also got this unique look with patches of bare skin on their faces, which you don’t see on other parrots.

Now, looking at other parrots, they’ve got their own thing going on. Their beaks might not be as big or tough as a macaw’s, but they’re still perfectly adapted to their diets.

Moreover, their tails tend to be shorter in proportion to their bodies. And while many parrots share the trait of being colorful, the palette and patterns might not be as striking or varied as those found on macaws.

Fun Fact: Parrots’ strong beaks are not just for cracking nuts and seeds; they also use them for climbing! These birds can use their beaks to cling onto branches and other surfaces, allowing them to explore their environment easily.

3. Habitat and Distribution

Colorful macaws in the forest

Macaws are primarily found in the lush, tropical rainforests of Central and South America, from Mexico down through Brazil.

They’re most commonly associated with forests, including both rainforests and occasionally woodland or savannah-like areas, depending on the species.

In contrast, parrots as a group have a much wider distribution. They inhabit tropical and subtropical regions all over the world, including Australia, Asia, and Africa, as well as some Caribbean and Pacific islands.

Parrots are not picky; they make their homes in a bunch of different habitats, not just rainforests. They can live in grasslands, savannahs, and sometimes even in cooler places.

4. Speech and Vocalizations

Three colorful macaws meeting and talking together

Both macaws and parrots can mimic human speech, especially when raised in close contact with humans, but the sounds they naturally produce set them apart.

Macaws are known for their loud, echoing calls, squawks, and screams that can be heard over long distances in the wild. They use these sounds to chat with their flock, mark their territory, and recognize each other in the wild.

Meanwhile, other parrots have a wider range of vocalizations and can produce a variety of sounds beyond just squawks and calls.

Having been around many different species of parrots, I’ve noticed they tend to make more subtle sounds. My Blue Quaker, for instance, has a range of soft chirps and whistles that are quite different from the bold calls you might hear from a macaw.

It’s pretty interesting to see how each type of parrot has its own way of talking, which makes being around them a cool experience to hear all the different sounds they can make.

5. Intelligence and Behavior

Two macaws sitting on log

When it comes to intelligence, both macaws and parrots are known for their smarts, but it’s hard to say one is smarter than the other because it really depends on the species.

For example, African Grey Parrots are often hailed as the most intelligent parrots, famous for their ability to communicate with humans, solve complex problems, and even understand concepts of color and shape.

These birds have shown cognitive abilities that rival those of young children in some studies.

Macaws, on the other hand, are also highly intelligent. Species like the Blue-and-gold Macaw are noted for their playful nature, ability to learn tricks, solve puzzles, and mimic human speech.

They’re social birds, using their intelligence to interact within their flocks and with people. Their emotional intelligence is particularly notable, as they can form deep bonds with their owners and express a wide range of emotions.

Overall, intelligence and behavior in both macaws and parrots vary widely by species, with each having its own special capabilities and ways of interacting with the world.

Fun Fact: African Grey Parrots have shown they’re not just smart but also kind-hearted. In a remarkable study, these birds were observed helping their feathered pals by sharing metal tokens that could be traded for nuts.

What’s amazing is they even helped parrots they had never met before, showcasing their selfless nature.

6. Diet and Nutrition

Amazon parrot in a pet store

In the wild, the diets of macaws and parrots are shaped by the availability of food in their environment. Macaws, for instance, feast on a plant-based menu that includes seeds, nuts, fruits, flowers, leaves, and stems.

They require a higher level of fat in their diet, which they usually get from nuts and palm fruits. This high-fat diet is crucial for their energy and overall health.

Other parrots are pretty similar, but since there are so many different kinds of them living in all sorts of places, what they eat can vary a lot.

They munch on fruits, seeds, nuts, nectar, and insects, depending on what’s available where they live.

When these birds are kept as pets, their meals need to be as close to their natural diet as possible to keep them healthy. For macaws, this means lots of plant-based foods and some fatty stuff like nuts.

Meanwhile, pet parrots’ diets should include a balanced mix of pellets, fresh fruits, and veggies, and a few seeds and nuts as treats.

Fun Fact: Did you know that Goffin’s Cockatoos have a snack-time habit that’s surprisingly similar to a human tradition? In a study, researchers found that these clever birds dunk their dry food in water before eating it.

This behavior, seen in 7 out of 18 cockatoos, is believed to make the food easier to eat by improving its texture and possibly its taste. It’s like how some people enjoy dunking cookies in milk!

7. Lifespan

A pair of parakeet parrots on a branch

Macaws are some of the longest-living birds in the parrot family. On average, they can live for 30 to 50 years in the wild but may reach over 60 years in captivity.

Species like the Scarlet Macaw, for instance, can live up to 75 or 90 years in captivity, though a lifespan of 40 to 50 years is more typical.

Parrots, in general, also have a pretty wide range when it comes to how long they live.

Smaller kinds of parrots might live between 10 and 30 years, but the bigger ones, like some amazons and cockatoos, can live way past 60 years if they’re kept as pets and looked after well.

Fun Fact: The oldest parrot ever recorded was a Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo named “Cookie,” who lived to be an astonishing 83 years old.

Cookie was a resident at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, Illinois, USA, where it passed away in August 2016.

8. Price

Parrot couple with red beaks

When purchasing a macaw or parrot, pricing can vary widely depending on the type of bird you’re looking at. Macaws are generally more expensive and can set you back anywhere from $1,000 to a whopping $25,000.

On the lower end of this range, you might find species like the Severe Macaw or Hahn’s Macaw, which are smaller and a bit more common.

On the high end, there’s the Hyacinth Macaw, which can fetch high prices because of its rarity and stunning blue feathers.

For other parrots, the price range is even wider. Prices for parakeets or budgies, which are a lot of people’s first bird pets, start at just $20.

But if you’re looking for something really special and rare, you could pay up to $20,000. This could get you an exotic parrot like the Black Palm Cockatoo.

9. Macaws and Parrots as Pets

African grey parrot stepping onto a hand

Having a macaw or a parrot as a pet comes with its own set of joys and challenges. Macaws are known for their strong personalities and can form deep bonds with their owners.

However, they require a lot of space to stretch their wings and plenty of toys and activities to keep their intelligent minds engaged.

Moreover, their loud calls can be a bit much for some people, so they’re better suited for those who don’t mind a bit of noise.

On the other hand, parrots cover a wide range of species, from the tiny budgie to the larger African Grey. This means there’s a parrot for almost every type of home and lifestyle.

Smaller parrots like budgies and cockatiels can be a great choice for first-time bird owners, as they’re a bit easier to care for and don’t need as much space as the larger birds.

Meanwhile, African Greys and other larger parrots are highly intelligent and known for their ability to mimic human speech, which can make for some entertaining conversations.

But, like macaws, they need plenty of mental stimulation and social interaction to stay happy.

How to Tell a Macaw From Other Parrots

Telling a macaw apart from other parrots isn’t too tricky once you know what to look for. First off, macaws are usually much larger and have longer tails than most other parrots.

They also have a distinctive facial feature that sets them apart: a bare patch of skin on their faces, right around their eyes.

I have a friend who owns a Blue-and-gold Macaw, and I can say that this patch is very noticeable when looking at it side by side with another parrot.

This patch can even change color or get flushed when the bird is excited or stressed. Not all parrots have this, so it’s a good clue you’re looking at a macaw.

Another giveaway is their beaks. Macaws have really strong, curved beaks that are built for cracking open hard nuts and seeds.

While other parrots also have curved beaks, macaws’ beaks are usually bigger and look more powerful, matching their larger size.

So, if you see a large, brightly colored bird with a bare face patch and a big, strong beak, chances are you’re looking at a macaw.

Frequently Asked Questions

African grey parrot sitting on a perch

Are Parrots and Macaws in the Same Family?

Yes, macaws and parrots belong to the same family, known as Psittacidae. This family includes many birds with strong beaks, colorful feathers, and the ability to mimic sounds.

Macaws are just one type of parrot known for their size, bright colors, and long tails, which make them one of the most recognizable members of the parrot family.

How Many Types of Macaws Are There?

There are about 19 types of macaws, including both extinct and existing species. These range from the popular Blue-and-gold Macaw to the extinct Spix’s Macaw.

Can Macaws Talk Like Parrots?

Yes, macaws can talk like other parrots. With patience and training, they can learn to say words and phrases. However, their ability to do so can vary among individuals.

So, now that you know all about the differences between macaws and other parrots, what do you think? Share your thoughts and questions in the comments below!

Leave a Comment

You may also like