On Wednesday, 10 March, we lost one of the very few living creatures that has been at Reptile Gardens longer than even us long-timers, Mac our Scarlet Macaw.
Like most parrots in the days before wildlife laws and captive breeding, Mac was captured in the wild, in South America. He was brought to the US in the early 1950’s and arrived here at Reptile Gardens as a large adult bird in 1956. We estimate his age at the time of his death to have been over 70 years. He was a huge, brightly-colored bird loaded with personality. In fact in regards to his size, many parrot breeders and bird fanciers remarked that he was the largest scarlet macaw they had ever seen.
Mac achieved legendary status here at the Gardens once we moved down to our new location in 1965. At that time, he spent his summer days outside on a perch in our prairie dog town, which was right next to our snake show arena. He loved it outside. He would sit on his perch and talk, squawk, and “perform” for Guests. Sometimes he would climb down and wander around the prairie dog town, even chasing a prairie dog now and then just for the fun of it. After years spent listening to the snake show he was able to recite most, if not all, of the 20-minute snake show word for word. He could speak much more clearly than most macaws.
One of his favorite things to do was to act demure and quietly wait for an unsuspecting Guest or staff member to wander nearby. Or if that didn’t work he would calmly say “Come here” to get his victim to come move in closer. As soon as he felt the person was sufficiently near and lulled into complacency or not paying attention to him, he would let loose with one of those amazing filling-rattling, eardrum-shattering screams for which macaws are known. This would, of course, cause his victim to jump nearly to the ceiling and cover their ears, which would then result in Mac laughing in a human laugh…really. As a result of this hobby, Mac added a considerable number of cuss words to his already huge vocabulary.
This was not a bird to be trifled with that is for certain. I have seen him splinter a broom stick with ease and bend metal food dishes into modern art. He was not generally fond of men, especially men with facial hair and had moments in his younger days when he could be quite aggressive toward them. Apparently, at some point in his life before he arrived here, something happened involving a bearded man that he never forgot. He could fool a novice Dome Guide or bird staff member into thinking their lives were in danger by simply striking a pose. Don’t tell anyone but our fearless reptile curator, Terry Phillip, known for his skills with deadly venomous snakes – the man who risks his life daily in the jaws of death – was once chased onto a table screaming like a baby and reduced to a puddle of fear by a mere bird: Mac the Scarlet Macaw.
For the past decade or so Mac has spent his days on a perch in the Safari Room of our Sky Dome. There, partially hidden among the jungle plants, he delighted Guests with his antics and was the subject of countless photos. New Safari Room guides would often wonder who was saying “Hello” and “Come here.” when they could see no one in the room. He would sit and mutter to himself, occasionally embarrassing a parent with young children. Of course, he still took pleasure in startling an unwary passerby with his shriek.
Reptile Gardens will not be the same without Mac. Our staff, even the guys, loved Mac and the history he represented here. Year after year, Mac consistently scored as one of the top favorite animals in our Guest surveys. Sadly, in the last couple of years Mac had begun to show his age. He was losing his eyesight and his energy. Our veterinarian did all she could but ultimately he just couldn’t fight the good fight anymore. The staff of Wildlife Experiences has been caring for Mac, and our other parrots, for some years now. I know they too are much saddened by his death after working so closely with him for so long. Whether you know it is coming or not, it is always heartbreaking when we lose one of our animal residents, especially one you have known for so very long.
Mac was never in a show or trained to do tricks. His status as a senior member of our staff was established early and he always got to do just what he wanted. This impressive bird will live on in the tens of thousands of photos taken of him over the past half a century plus that he spent here keeping us on our toes and enriching our lives.