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Unlike humans, birds do not show physical signs of aging. They don’t turn gray or become arthritic. Even so, birds do age and have an expiration date, but it can be difficult to predict how old birds are since they don’t show obvious signs of aging.
Because it’s hard to know how old a bird is, it’s also hard to estimate how long birds live overall. To make the issue even more difficult, the average lifespan of a bird depends on many factors, including its species and living conditions.
Because so many factors determine how long a bird lives, the average lifespan of birds is between 4–100 years. That is a wide range, so it’s important to understand all the factors that go into a bird’s life expectancy to better understand how long these aerial critters live.
If you piled together the average lifespan of all bird species, the average lifespan of a bird is between 4–100 years. Because this is such a wide range, it can be difficult to predict how long your bird will live based on this statistic alone.
In order to better understand how long birds live, you have to know why some birds live longer than others. Factors such as species, environment, and breeding history can all determine the life expectancy of an individual bird.
Here’s a look at all of the factors you need to consider to understand why some birds live longer than others:
The number one factor that impacts a bird’s lifespan is its species. Certain species have a longer life expectancy than others. Common starlings only live between 2–3 years, but some pink cockatoos have lived over 70 years.
One way you can look at the life expectancy of a bird is by looking at bird type. Waterfowl, birds of prey, insectivorous birds, flightless birds, and game birds are the most common divisions.
|Bird Group||Example Bird Species||Average Life Expectancy|
|Waterfowl||Mallard, Canada Goose||5–30 years|
|Birds of Prey||Hawks, Owls, Eagles||10–30 years|
|Insectivores||Songbirds, Parrots||2–40+ years|
|Flightless Birds||Penguin, Ostrich||6–40+ years|
|Game Birds||Turkey, Grouse||3–30 years|
Looking at the bird group is not enough. You also have to look at individual species. Two birds within the same group can have wildly different life expectancies. Here’s a quick look at different species and their expected lifespan:
|Common Starling||2–3 years|
|Elf Owl||5 years|
|Red Cardinals||15 years|
|Red-Tailed Hawk||20 years|
|Great Blue Heron||24 years|
|Great Horned Owl||28 tears|
|Bald Eagles||38 years|
|Hyacinth Macaw||50 years|
|Laysan Albatross||68 years|
|Pink Cockatoo||70+ years|
As this chart shows, the life expectancy of birds varies widely based on species. To get the best idea of the life expectancy of your bird, it’s best to consider its species specifically.
Aside from species, there are some other factors to consider when estimating the lifespan of a bird. Of course, nutrition plays a big role in a bird’s life expectancy. Birds with better nutrition will live longer than those without good nutrition.
Where the bird lives also impacts its lifespan. Birds that live in peaceful locations with minimal hunting will have a much longer life expectancy than those that live in impoverished areas. You also must consider access to food, water, and nesting habitats when considering how the environment and conditions impact the lifespan of a bird.
Captive birds tend to live longer than wild birds because they are not exposed to predators and are often provided with an excellent and well-rounded diet. However, certain caged birds will live longer than others. The conditions of the cage largely impact how long a domesticated bird will last. Cages that are kept clean and offer a lot of space will allow the bird to live for as long as possible.
The size of the bird can be a big determiner of how long a bird lives. As a rule of thumb, birds that are larger in size live longer than smaller ones, but this isn’t always the case.
In birds, the males typically live longer than the females. This is different from most humans and mammals where the females live longer. Unfortunately, it is unclear why male birds live longer than females.
Just like humans, birds have genes that predispose them to certain illnesses and diseases. Birds with certain genes will be healthier than birds with genes that are more prone to certain diseases.
Bad genes are primarily developed through irresponsible breeding. As a result, birds that are poorly bred end up dying sooner because they are predisposed to a number of negative illnesses and conditions.
Access to healthcare is the last important factor that impacts a bird’s life expectancy. Birds that have access to healthcare will last longer because they will get the medical attention they need when sick or injured, allowing them to survive the ordeal. Access to healthcare further explains why captive birds live longer than wild ones.
Even though birds have different life expectancies, they all go through the same nine life stages as described below:
In the embryonic stage, the fertilized embryo is developing inside its egg.
Whenever the bird hatches from the egg, it is a hatchling. Hatchlings rely on the remaining yolk for sustenance until it is capable of controlling their own body temperature.
Nestlings are able to control their own body temperature, but they are still dependent on their mother and stay in the nest. They are unable to fly.
A chick is a bird that is still young, but it is able to leave the nest either through hopping or walking. However, it is not able to fly just yet.
A fledgling is a bird that has left the nest and has its first set of flight feathers but still relies on its parents for different care and food purposes.
Once a bird is a juvenile, it is no longer dependent on its parents. It gets its first plumage of non-downy feathers. The bird cannot reproduce yet.
Immature adults are sometimes difficult to spot. They can breed and reproduce by this phase, but they do not have the same color or patterns as mature adult birds.
Mature adults have taken on their final form and gone through their first molt. They are able to breed and have definitive plumage.
It’s difficult to define a senior bird since they do not have physical signs of age. However, birds will hit a senior age when they need additional care and medical resources.
Unfortunately, it’s next to impossible to definitively estimate your bird’s age unless you raised it from the time it was a hatchling. Otherwise, there’s no way to tell the exact age of your bird, but you can estimate which phase of life it is in based on its appearance and ability to reproduce.
The best way to tell your bird’s phase of life is to look at the feathers. If the feathers are still super soft and incapable of flying, you know you have a fledgling or a juvenile. Deciphering an immature bird from a mature adult is more difficult. You will mainly have to look at subtle color changes on the feathers.
As for senior birds, you will have to pay attention to how they behave and if they struggle with certain activities. It’s best to take your bird to a doctor if you think it is a senior and requires more frequent medical attention and checkups.
On average, birds can live between 4–100 years, but the species of the bird and other factors will impact its exact life expectancy. It’s important to consider all these factors when determining a bird’s lifespan so you get the most accurate picture possible.
If you own a pet bird and are trying to determine how old it is, good luck. You probably will not be able to estimate its age in exact years, but you should be able to tell your bird’s age in terms of life stage.
Featured Image Credit: Martin Pelanek, Shutterstock
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Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.
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