The surprisingly complex science of bird longevity (2023)

How long do birds live? Whether you're answering this question in your next bird quiz challenge or just want to impress someone spontaneously, here's the answer: birds can live anywhere from four to 100 years, depending on the species.

While it may earn you trivial points, this answer may raise more questions than it solves:Why are life expectancies so different? Which birds live the longest? Can some birds really live to be 100 years old?

Answering these questions turns out to be surprisingly difficult. In many cases, the seemingly simple matterhow old is this birdit may be impossible to answer.

However, by learning some basic facts about bird aging, we can gain some interesting insights into bird lifespans and even begin to understand which of the species we know of around us are likely to live the longest (and shortest).

The surprisingly complex science of bird longevity (1)
Birds don't age like we do

As humans, we're used to using visual cues to guess the age of someone or something. The neighbor's dog with its gray patches of fur and its stiff gait is obviously getting on in years. This huge gnarled tree in the park must have been there for decades.

birds are different. They don't turn grey; they do not become arthritic; they don't get bigger every year; They leave no growth rings for us to count.

In fact, once most birds develop their adult plumage, they become essentially unaged.

How birds are able to accomplish this remarkable feat isn't fully understood, but it likely has to do with the way their bodies areprocess oxygen and proteins associated with metabolism.

The reality that birds show no physical signs of aging poses a challenge to understanding how long they live: if we cannot age adult birds, how can we study their lifespans?

The surprisingly complex science of bird longevity (2)
What we know (and don't know) about the world's oldest birds.

If you google "longest lived bird" you will find several claims of birds that have lived over 100 years. Some birds may even have survived120!

Take these claims with a grain of salt.

These records depend on when a bird was born, a fact we don't usually have when the bird was born in the wild. Also, as in fishing tales, bird breeders sometimes exaggerate how long their birds live.

AccordinglyGuinness World Records, the oldest confirmed bird is "cookie', a pink cockatoo, or Major Mitchell, who lived to be 83 at the Brookfield Zoo near Chicago.

Some birds almost certainly lived to over 83 years (hence the upper end of the trivial answer), but at the moment we don't have definitive confirmation of a centenarian bird.

It is generally difficult to age wild birds

As claims to the title of 'world's oldest bird' indicate, accurate aging of birds, even in captivity, is a challenge. It is even more difficult for wild birds. There is the obvious problem that wild birds are difficult to track. In almost all cases, it is impossible to know exactly when an individual bird began or ended its life. In addition, wild animals lead very different lives from captive animals, and insights gained from captive animals may not always be relevant to animals in the wild.

Our knowledge of the lifespan of birds in the wild comes almost entirely fromBird chirping. The theory behind this technique is simple: if you catch an already ringed bird, you can confirm its age - or at least the time that has elapsed since it was originally caught.

In practice, however, birds are aged by bandingmoremore complicated than it looks. Only a small percentage of ringed birds are observed again, and if they were fully grown when first banded, their original age is unknown.

The surprisingly complex science of bird longevity (3)
Birds live relatively long.

While there is still much to learn about how long birds live in the wild, one thing is clear: many birds live much longer than we might expect.

Life expectancy in wildlife generally correlates with metabolic rate. In mammals, this is usually related to body size: large mammals with slower metabolisms generally live longer; the little ones with faster metabolism live shorter lives. For example, humans live longer than dogs and cats live longer than mice and hamsters. (As is often the case with these generalized patterns, there areexceptions.)

Many birds are small and have extremely high metabolic rates. Therefore, we would expect birds to be relatively short-lived. But they are not.

On the contrary, many birds live exceptionally long lives, especially when compared to similarly sized mammals. For example, under ideal conditions in captivity, a house mouse can live to be four years old. Meanwhile, a broad-billed hummingbird (a quarter the size of a mouse) can live up to 14 years.NO wild.

Barn swallows have been shown to live 16 years, long enough for these amazing travelers to have traveled about half the distance to the moon during their annual migrations. European goldfinches can live up to 27 years. Ravens are known to have lived more than twice as long at 69 years oldoldest known dog.

As with the lack of physical aging, we also learn how birds manage to live so long with their super-fast metabolisms. The answers can provide cluesto understand aging in our own species.

An important point to keep in mind: just because birdshe canA long lifespan does not necessarily mean that all individuals of the speciesmakelive so long Much like us humans (who have been recorded as living up to122), most individuals will have shorter lives than the extreme ones.

The surprisingly complex science of bird longevity (4)
Tips for identifying the longest-lived (and shortest) birds in your area

For those of us who watch birds at our feeders or in the field, it will almost always be impossible to accurately age individual wild birds when they reach adulthood. But we can begin to understand which of the bird species around us are likely to have the longest (and shortest) lives.

Longer lifespans are often associated with traits of a bird's biology and natural history. Here are five characteristics that can help us guess which species are likely to live the longest:

  • height. On average, larger species tend to live longer than smaller species.
  • number of puppies. Birds with longer lifespans generally have fewer chicks, while those with shorter lifespans tend to have more.
  • years to adulthood. Short-lived species tend to reach adulthood faster than longer-lived species.
  • life on the floor. Birds that live and nest on the ground generally adapt to a shorter lifespan than those that live higher up, such as in treetops.
  • Inseleben. Birds that live and nest on islands generally live longer than their mainland counterparts.

With these findings in mind, which do you think lives longer: a wild turkey or a red-tailed hawk?

To get you started, here are some basic facts: turkeys are larger than redstarts (up to 24 pounds versus 2.8 pounds), have significantly more young (up to 17 eggs versus up to five eggs), and reach adulthood faster ( one year versus three years), and they live on the floor.

If you've chosen the red-tailed hawk, you're right. Redstarts have been found to live up to 30 years, while the oldest recorded wild turkey was 15 years old.

In addition to these biological and ecological characteristics, there is another factor that often predicts how old a bird species will beknownlive: how many people studied it. Generally,Birds that have been better studied are more likely to have records of long-lived individuals. Given how difficult it is to age birds, this makes sense. It also shows how much there is still to learn about how long many bird species can live.

Longevity records for some known North American birds in the wild (based on banding data from thePatuxent Wildlife Research Center Vogelberingungslabor).To see more recordings, take a look at oursExtended life expectancy table for wild birds.

Stockente27 years
owl eleven5 years
Flamingo Americano49 years
Albatroz Laysan68 years old
great blue heron24 years
bald eagle38 years
Kanadakranich37 years
Seepapagei33 years
great honorable owl28 years

See if you can use your knowledge of the size and natural history of some of these well-known birds to look for patterns in their lifespans. Keep in mind that not all of these traits are hard and fast rules, and sometimes the patterns are influenced by how much we study a species. To learn more, see records of bird longevity by speciesPatuxent Wildlife Research Center Vogelberingungslabor.

The surprisingly complex science of bird longevity (5)
longevity and preservation

Longer-lived birds generally have fewer young each breeding season and take longer to reach adulthood. This means that their ability to successfully produce offspring may depend on each individual being able to live long.wisdom, a 69-year-old female Laysan albatross who currently holds the record as the oldest known wild bird, may have produced up to36 chicksall your life. If that sounds like a lot, consider that a very productive turkey can produce almost as many puppies over the course of a year or two!

The slow-moving lifestyles of long-lived birds like albatrosses can have important conservation ramifications. For example, on islands where birds have lived for a long time, the introduction of new threats such asinvasive predatorscan have devastating consequences.

ABC's work to protect long-lived island-nesting birds such ashawaiianischer SturmvogelIt's a way to help long-lived bird species continue to make the most of their slow and steady lifestyles.

ABC works to improve the outlook for birds in America and beyond. This means addressing the human-caused challenges faced by birds, includingloss of habitat,construction collisions,pesticides, zof climate change. Your supporthelps us achieve conservation of birds and their habitats.

Dr. Steve AustadAdvice generously offered to this blog. his bookMethusalem-Zoo,focusing on aging in the animal world will be released in 2021.

The surprisingly complex science of bird longevity (6)John C. Mittermeier is ABC's director of Endangered Species Outreach. He works with ABC's partners in Bolivia and helps lead ABC's lost bird and bird trade initiatives.


What bird can live for 200 years? ›

Wisdom (albatross)
Wisdom with one of her chicks, in March 2011
SpeciesLaysan albatross
Hatchedc. 1951 (age 71–72)
Known forWorld's oldest known wild bird; World's oldest banded bird

What bird can live up to 100 years? ›

Macaws. Large parrots like Macaws are among the longest living parrot species. Healthy Macaw parrots live an average of 50 years. But they have been known to live up to 100 years!

What animal has the longest lifespan trivia? ›

There are a number of marine species that outlive humans, and the mammal species that holds the record for longevity is the bowhead whale, which can live for 200 years - or more.

Which animal can live 1,000 years? ›

Estimates of sponge longevity vary quite a bit, but are often in the thousands of years. One study in the journal Aging Research Reviews notes a deep-sea sponge from the species Monorhaphis chuni lived to be 11,000 years old. Yes, a sponge is an animal—and it has a remarkable life-span.

What bird can fly up to 2 years without landing? ›

Albatrosses are masters of soaring flight, able to glide over vast tracts of ocean without flapping their wings. So fully have they adapted to their oceanic existence that they spend the first six or more years of their long lives (which last upwards of 50 years) without ever touching land.

Are there any ancient bird species still alive? ›

Hoatzins are the only living representatives of one of the most ancient lineages of birds, with origins about 64 million years ago. Young hoatzin have two claws on the bones that support their flight feathers—that is, on their hands.

Do smaller people live longer? ›

Researchers also discovered that “shorter, smaller bodies have lower death rates and fewer diet-related chronic diseases, especially past middle age.” The lifespans of shorter people appear to be longer than their taller counterparts, the paper says.

Where do birds go during storms? ›

Shelter in Place

When bad weather hits, birds generally seek shelter in microhabitats, such as inside a thick hedge, or on the downwind side of a tree—in this case, being petite has its advantages. Hunkering down in these spots can protect them from wind, rain, and even cold (it's warmer closer to the ground).

What animal can live 200 years? ›

Bowhead Whale

Bowhead whales can live more than 200 years–making them one of the longest-living mammals on Earth. Bowhead whales live in the chilly Arctic and subarctic waters year-round.

What animal can live for 500 years? ›

The ocean quahog is a fist-size clam that can live to be 500 years or older. Some researchers believe the sturdy quahog's secret to a long life is its ability to protect its proteins from damage.

Which bird became extinct over 200 years ago? ›

The birds were first seen by Portuguese sailors about 1507 and were exterminated by humans and their introduced animals. The dodo was extinct by 1681, the Réunion solitaire by 1746, and the Rodrigues solitaire by about 1790.

Can a person live to be 200 years old? ›

Humans' life expectancy (average) is 70-85 years. However, the oldest verified person (Jeanne Clement, 1875-1997) lived up to 122 years. As a person ages, the telomeres (chromosome ends) tend to become shorter in every consecutive cycle of replication.


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