All about Hyacinth Macaw keeping and breeding. PART III

May 31st, 2016 | by Kashmir Csaky
All about Hyacinth Macaw keeping and breeding. PART III

Read also the first and second part of this interview:

All about Hyacinth Macaw keeping and breeding. PART I

All about Hyacinth Macaw keeping and breeding. PART II




The diet of a Hyacinth Macaw is unlike the diet of most other parrots. This is where aviculturists often go wrong with them. It has been well publicized that Hyacinths need more fat in their diet and this can be offered to the birds in many forms. Macadamia nuts are about the best food for this purpose. Here in the United States we seldom have difficulty obtaining macadamia nuts. However, many of my friends in Europe seem to have some trouble finding them.

Macadamia nut oil is normally sold in gourmet food stores and is an acceptable substitute, if it is cold pressed. The oil can be poured over fresh food or soaked into bread and then offered to the birds.

Brazil nuts are also a favorite. However, they are frequently filled with fungus and smell rank, so I feed them in small quantities and carefully inspect each nut after cutting it open with a macadamia nut cracker. Only then will I give them to any of my birds.



Hyacinth Macaw breeding pair with nuts (c) Kashmir Csaky


Walnuts have omega 3 fatty acids and are a very nutritious nut. Unfortunately, as with the Brazil nuts, I find many that are rancid. So, they are also given in limited numbers and inspected in the same way as the Brazil nuts. Walnuts also contain volatile oils that aggravate pancreatitis. I am aware of one Hyacinth that developed this and this was a bird that ate a minimum of 10 walnuts a day. For this reason some aviculturists will not feed their birds any walnuts.

Filberts are high in calcium, which is a mineral that Hyacinths need in higher quantities than most other parrots.

Almonds are even higher in calcium than filberts, but they contain oxalic acid, which binds calcium and thus decreases its absorption. Pistachios are high in vitamin A compared to other nuts. I give these to my birds as treats several times a day.

Coconuts are another beneficial high fat food. Coconuts are a seasonal food, although they may be available all year. When shopping for coconuts out of season I find that many of them are spoiled. An alternative is canned coconut milk, which can be poured over or mixed into fruits and vegetables to encourage finicky eaters to consume a healthier diet. Birds that have not had coconut milk before may be suspicious when they see this creamy white liquid covering their food, so I recommend offering small amounts until the birds taste it and then it normally becomes a favorite food. Coconut milk can be frozen after the can is opened, which is important since it will spoil quickly. Ground nuts can also be sprinkled on fresh foods to encourage good eating habits.



It was once believed that in the wild, Hyacinths ate only one or two different types of nuts. Although their diet is limited, they have now been observed eating at least seven different types of food. Joanne Abramson had two of their favorite nuts analyzed. Both the bocaiuva and acuri palm nuts contained over 50 per cent total fat and less that 12 per cent protein. The complete analysis can be found in her book The Large Macaws.

Not long ago, Hyacinths were normally fed diets that were too low in fat and that were appropriate for an Amazon. Now I see too many Hyacinths that are nut junkies. They are fed a diet that consists of only Brazil and macadamia nuts. Hens on an all nut diet will begin to lay soft-shelled eggs and can become egg bound. So, it is imperative to continue to feed foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals like sweet potatoes, leafy greens and pellets.


Protein and D3 toxicity

What is referred to as vitamin D3 is actually not a vitamin at all but a steroid. It is fat-soluble and is stored in muscles, fat and internal organs. D3 is necessary for proper absorption of calcium and phosphorus. It is vital in egg production and growth, especially bone growth. However, Hyacinths are prone to vitamin D3 toxicity. One of the first symptoms is polyuria. High uric acid levels can be an indication of D3 toxicity. In advanced cases subcutaneous deposits of urates and calcium can be seen in the feet, legs and trunk of the body.

When pairs produce either clear eggs, dead in shell, weak chicks that do not thrive or stunted chicks, they may be suffering from D3 toxicity. Hyacinth pairs are often thought to be infertile because they are producing clear eggs. Yet, they may be producing fertile eggs that experience early embryonic deaths due to vertical transmission (from the hen to the egg) of D3. Depending on how much D3 is present in the hen, it is also possible for the eggs or chicks to die at various stages of development. If chicks survive to adulthood they will be stunted.



(c) Kashmir Csaky


(c) Kashmir Csaky


(c) Kashmir Csaky


Problems with D3 toxicity normally occur when birds are fed breeder pellets year round. Breeder pellets were created to boost the nutritional content of the diet of breeding birds while they are producing eggs and feeding fast growing babies. The mega-doses of vitamins can be harmful and should not be offered when birds are not producing. Some breeders also sprinkle vitamins on food or in water. This is an almost certain way to cause a vitamin overdose, especially when vitamins are added to a diet that includes pellets.

There is evidence that suggests protein poisoning is linked to the deaths of many Hyacinth Macaws. The level of protein in a Hyacinth’s diet should be monitored. Foods high in protein, especially animal protein such as meat and cheese should be avoided. Based on the analysis of the bocaiuva and acuri palm nuts, I avoid feeding foods that are over 18 per cent protein to adult Hyacinths.

My personal experience with high protein in a diet has been with baby Hyacinths. These birds were extremely overactive and exhibited some strange behaviors. They also had black feather, many stress bars and the texture of the feathers was very stiff. Although, the problems with the feathers may have been caused by any of a number of inadequacies with the commercial hand feeding formula I tried on that occasion.



(c) Kashmir Csaky


Sexual behavior

Single female Hyacinths kept as pets may exhibit sexual behavior as young as three – behavior her owner may find embarrassing, since it frequently happens in the presence of company. However, most females are not ready to breed until they are five years old. Males are slower to mature. When young Hyacinths are paired, the female is normally the aggressor.

I often hear from people that their Hyacinths have been copulating regularly for years, yet they have not produced any eggs. These birds copulate frequently whenever anyone approaches their flight. This means that the birds are bonded to each other – which is good. However, it is not sexual behavior as interpreted by the aviculturist. Often the birds are not even making contact and are faking copulation. This is merely a territorial display. Hyacinths that are very comfortable in their environment and with their caretakers do not exhibit this type of territorial behavior. However, if stressed or in the presence of stranger this behavior will re-emerge.

For copulation to be an indication of future production it must occur when no one is in the pair’s territory. Hyacinths vocalize very loudly when they copulate, making it easy to know when the birds are actually breeding. Vocalization during copulation also changes, becoming higher pitched as they near completion. Copulation must also occur frequently (three or more times a day) and it must become protracted to signal the pair’s desire to reproduce.

As breeding pairs become interested in reproduction they become more vocal and playful. They will begin to spend more time in the nest box chewing up nesting material and arranging it to suit them. Many hens will start consuming large amounts of broccoli. They seem to have a particular fondness for broccoli leaves at this time. Broccoli leaves are higher in nutrients than the stalk and florets.




D3 toxicity is likely the primary reason for clear eggs in Hyacinth Macaws. Another major reason for clear eggs, dead in shell and weak chicks is inbreeding. An aviculturist I know had all his Hyacinths DNA mapped to determine if any of his birds were related to each other. He discovered that many of his poor producing pairs consisted of related birds. These birds were separated and paired with unrelated birds. The fertility rate increased and egg and chick mortality dropped dramatically.

Hyacinths that are sold as captive bred pairs are often related. Brothers and sisters will generally get along well and they bring an unscrupulous person much more money when sold as a proven pair. In one case a pair of siblings Hyacinths was sold to a gentleman as a proven pair. The gentleman’s veterinarian scanned the birds and discovered they were micro-chipped. From the chip numbers he was able to contact the breeder, who informed him that the birds were not only brother and sister; they were only about a year old. In just a matter of a few months these birds had been sold three times. If DNA mapping services are available then one drop of blood from each bird can determine if they are related. Unfortunately, no one in the United States is currently offering DNA mapping services.

If birds are too young or too old they cannot reproduce. It is difficult to judge the age of a Hyacinth, however, the nostrils may provide a clue. When Hyacinths are under 15 months old they have large visible nostrils. Some juveniles will take longer to feather out well, so these birds may be months older.



Jackson – one of the Hyacinth Macaws which was raised by Kashmir and now is adult (c) Kashmir Csaky


Older birds have more feathering in this area and their nostrils are nearly invisible. It is possible for adult Hyacinths to have visible nostrils, this can happen when they wear the feathers away by pressing their face against the bars of their enclosures. These birds will develop calluses around the nostrils and the nostrils will not have the nice smooth oval shape seen in a juvenile. Nostrils may also be visible in adults that have been sneezing excessively, in which case the feathers in the area would be matted.

Old birds are hard to identify. Yet, many birds will turn lighter in color as they reach their senior years. Some birds will turn light while others do not, just as some people turn grey at a very young age and others may never develop grey hair. Most species that have a change in color will begin turning yellow. Old Hyacinths will develop some white feathers, yet it is not abnormal for Hyacinths to have some white down at any age. So, the lighter color can only be used as a basis for an informed guess.


In closing

Hyacinths are difficult birds to breed and that is only the beginning of the trials that the aviculturist will encounter. Incubating the eggs and raising the chicks is a stressful, heart wrenching and a formidable challenge. Yet, I can think of nothing more rewarding than successfully raising a Hyacinth chick that is a fine example of the species.


author: Kashmir Csaky

Title photo: (c) Kashmir Csaky



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