Macaw Petroglyphsby Sally Blanchard
Northwest of Albuquerque at the Petroglyph National Monument is a famous Petroglyph of a Macaw with his foot up. This rock drawing was made by Southwest Native Americans sometime between 400 to 700 years ago. While macaws are not native to the American Southwest, native peoples such as the Anasazi treasured macaws for their feathers. They traded throughout Mesoamerica for macaws and macaw feathers. Young birds were taken from the nest when they were close to two months old. Then they were transported north by trained keepers who were responsible for feeding them and keeping them alive. They were kept in baskets during the travel and often fed masticated food from their keeper’s mouth. The first trip was to a holding area where they were raised for close to a year. Then they were transported to the native people of what is now the Southwest United States in time for religious ceremonies associated with the Spring Equinox. The feathers were used in ceremonies and for ceremonial objects. One such artifact is a Macaw feather and squirrel pelt sash from 920 A.D. It was made by the Anasazi and traded north where it was discovered in southeastern Utah.
Whether live Macaws were kept just for their feather production, as pets, or used as ceremonial sacrifices is unclear. However, it appears that the native peoples knew what we know and that is that a macaw that has early associations with people can remain very tame. As I was researching this short item, I wondered what people traded for the Macaws and finally read that one of the items was large domestic turkeys. Obviously, turkey was a favorite long before Thanksgiving!