How Long Do Birds Live? All About The Wild Bird Lifespan

how long do birds live

Have you ever wondered whether you’re seeing the same individual birds in your yard, year after year? Unless they have something unique about them, like an unusual marking, it can actually be really difficult to tell.

This leads to another question: just how long do birds live? It’s an interesting question, and something I’ve been wondering about just lately. I’ve decided to do a little research and I’ll share that with you here!

The Life Expectancy Of Birds

It turns out that it’s very difficult for scientists to say exactly how old birds get because the data is so difficult to come by. I mean, you can’t exactly check their IDs, can you? It’s actually really difficult to tell the age of a bird. 

Sure, it’s easy to tell a fledgling bird from a juvenile, and a juvenile bird from an adult. Telling a youthful bird from a wise old bird, on the other hand, is no simple matter. Fortunately, we do have some idea of how long do birds live.

In the wild, the most dangerous times for birds are during their first few months. Life in the nest, and especially when learning to fly and becoming independent is a very risky period. If chicks are successful and manage to reach adulthood, life becomes a lot easier and they are at a lower risk of death. 

There are many factors that could affect a bird’s lifespan. Provided a bird makes it to adulthood, all of the following factors could influence its longevity:

  • Predation
  • Illness
  • Injuries from fighting
  • Accidental injuries (from bad storms for example)
  • Habitat quality
  • Competition for resources with other birds

How Long Do Wild Birds Live?

Ornithologists (scientists who study birds) do something called banding, or ringing where wild birds are caught and have a small ring attached around their ankles. There is some basic information linked to the unique code on that band, like where and when the bird was first caught. 

If the bird is captured again, it is easy for ornithologists to then figure out how many years ago the bird was first ringed. 

how long do birds live

While this doesn’t exactly answer the question of how long do birds live, it is still valuable information. Of course, it is difficult to say exactly how old the bird was when it was first caught unless it still had its juvenile plumage. 

Banding also does not tell us how old the individual will be at its death because, well, you’d have to capture the bird in its dying moments and be able to prove that it was in fact dying of old age. From the data we have, we can however say with confidence that wild birds can live anywhere from just a few years to several decades.

The World’s Oldest Wild Bird

The World's Oldest Wild Bird

As far as we know, currently, the world’s oldest wild bird is a very special Laysan Albatross by the appropriate name of Wisdom. Wisdom is at least 70 years old this year. And she’s still breeding! 

How do we know Wisdom’s age? Well, she was banded 70 years ago. She is an unusual specimen, however, being many years older than the next oldest Laysan Albatross that scientists know of. 

How Long Do Pet Birds Live?

Apart from banding wild birds, our next best bet in answering the question of how long do birds live is to look at pets and captive birds in zoos and rehabilitation centers. This gives us a far more accurate idea of the bird lifespan, but there is a big catch:

On average, birds in captivity tend to live a whole lot longer than birds in the wild.  

This is because they always have access to food, water, and shelter, as long as they are well taken care of. Captive birds are also not in competition with other birds and usually don’t get into fights that can cause injuries and disease. Additionally, captive birds are usually well protected from extreme weather and predators.

The World’s Oldest Pet Bird

The World's Oldest Pet Bird

The longest living bird (that we know of) was a captive Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo who lived to an incredible age of at least 82 years and 88 days. This amazing bird was a male known as Cookie, who lived at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago. 

Pet Bird Lifespans

Here’s a list of the approximate maximum ages that some of the most common pet birds can live to:

 

Canary

Canary: 15 years

Zebra Finch

Zebra Finch: 10 years

Pigeon

Pigeon: 15 years

Lovebird

Lovebird: 20 years

Budgie

Budgie: 12 years

Macaw

Macaw: 50 years

How Long Do Small Birds Live?

There is a very general rule that suggests that the larger a bird is, the longer its lifespan is likely to be. While this is helpful, there are many exceptions to the rule. Part of the reason for bigger birds living longer than smaller birds is that they have far fewer predators to worry about. 

As far as common songbirds go, most species will live for just a few years in the wild, usually less than a decade. 

How Long Do Cardinal Birds Live?

Cardinal Birds

Northern cardinals have lived for over 20 years in captivity, something that is pretty unlikely for your regular backyard birds. 

How Long Do Hummingbirds Live?

Hummingbirds are actually surprisingly long-lived for such small, high-energy creatures. Well-known species like the Calliope, Broad-tailed and Rufous Hummingbirds have been recorded to live for over 10 years, although their average lifespan is likely to be well below half of that. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What Bird Has The Shortest Lifespan?

It is uncertain which species of bird has the shortest lifespan because scientists simply don’t have enough data to say for sure. It is suspected though that the shortest-lived birds are small types like finches and flycatchers. 

What Bird Can Live 100 Years?

If there’s any bird that can live for 100 years, it must be one of the larger parrot, cockatoo, or macaw species. 

Where Do Birds Go To Die?

Birds that are unwell will try to get to quiet, sheltered places where they can rest and recover. Of course, birds that are seriously injured or suffer from an illness that starts up suddenly will likely die wherever they are at the time. 

How Long Do Common Garden Birds Live?

Most common garden birds will live 1 to 10 years if they survive to adulthood. Life expectancy will, however, be lower because many chicks do not make it through their first few months. 

Final Thoughts

how long do birds live

Knowing how long birds live just adds another dimension to an amazing group of creatures we all share the planet with. You never know, that bird you just saw might even be older than you are! Happy birdwatching. 

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