why do parrots live so long?

Why Do Parrots Live Longer Than Other Birds?

Parrots make life-long companions due to their staggering life expectancy. A well taken care of parrot can live up to 80 years – that’s 8 times longer than the average cat or dog! First-time owners are warned of the commitment they’ll have to make for years to come. In fact, some parrots will outlive their owners.

Parrots’ genes have evolved in a way that primed them to live a long life. Less intelligent smaller birds evolved to reproduce quickly instead, a trait that takes its toll on their bodies and causes them to age faster. Parrots have the necessary biological components to cope well with the effects of aging.

Of course, the average lifespan of a parrot depends on the species. The environment, stress levels, diet, and lifestyle of the bird also affect how long parrots will live. Some argue that parrots live longer in the wild vs. in captivity. That’s a hotly debated topic, so we’ll look at both sides of the argument.

Why Do Parrots Live So Long?

Most birds die young, so they need to reproduce quickly to maintain the numbers their species needs to continue. This deteriorates their bodies and shortens their lifespan considerably.

Parrots compensated for this need differently as they have the necessary intelligence to survive. Their high IQ allows them to avoid predators in different ways, thus preserving their species. Once this status quo was maintained for several million years, parrots started to live longer lives. Five factors contribute to how parrots have evolved:

Size

The smaller an animal is, the shorter its life span. The largest macaw species (the hyacinth macaw) weighs about as much as a small chihuahua and is as long as a domestic pig. In theory, they should have the same average life span.

However, chihuahuas live for 12 to 20 years, and pigs live for 15 to 20 years. The hyacinth macaw can survive for up to 50 years out in the wild.

What separates these creatures is their metabolism. Mice, rabbits, chickens, guinea pigs, dogs, cats, and other small animals don’t commonly live over 20. Horses, blue whales, elephants, gorillas, and other big animals do. The reason longevity in relation to size is so prevalent in nature is body temperature and metabolism.

Metabolism

Volume exists in a space relative to the total surface area in said space. The less volume something has – and the less amount of space there is – the easier it is to cool down or heat up. For example, it’s easier and faster to heat a cup of coffee rather than a swimming pool. The same thing applies to animals.

A small animal becomes hot or cold faster based on the temperature of the space they inhabit. They do this faster than a big animal. Warm-blooded animals have certain biological mechanisms that enable them to retain their body temperature at the optimal level. Humans sweat, and dogs stick their tongue out so as not to overheat.

Said mechanisms require a certain amount of energy. An animal’s metabolism helps with this process. Metabolism is the chemical function that turns food into energy. However, this does cause oxidative stress.

parrot life expectancy in captivity

Oxidative Stress

Small animals are more likely to overheat or freeze up due to their size, requiring a faster metabolism than bigger animals. The problem is that free radicals, a molecular species, are produced during cellular metabolism.

Free radicals are a normal part of the metabolic process. However, if there is an excess of them in the body, it can cause oxidative stress. Oxidative stress damages a being’s DNA and deteriorates the body. This is why small birds tend to live shorter lives than bigger ones (like parrots) because their high metabolism leads to accelerated aging.

If this is the case, then parrots must have a slow metabolism. It’s the only way they can outlive bigger animals like cats and dogs. Actually, parrots have extremely high metabolisms, like most bird species. It’s a direct result of their high metabolism, which is a trait that proved to be the key to their evolutionary success.

Slower Reproduction Rate

When a small bird’s body deteriorates quickly due to its high metabolism, there is a biological pressure for them to reproduce quickly. They need to produce high numbers of offspring to compensate for those that die young. Without this, the species would not survive. After all, birds often die in the wild due to:

  • Malnutrition
  • Predators
  • Disease
  • Accidents

This trains an animal’s genes to be short-lived. However, that changes if the bird takes the path of the parrot. Parrots occur when a bird species spends millions of years:

  • Outsmarting competition
  • Outperforming predators
  • Avoiding accidents
  • Priming their genes for longevity

Intelligence

Their intelligence affected their lifespans. They were able to survive longer, so this new trait could set in their genetics. This was done by:

Outsmarting Competition

Parrots have complex brains that function similarly to humans. Researchers at the University of Alberta wanted to find out if parrots have large pontine nuclei. This neural highway connects the cortex (sensory information) with the cerebellum (motor function).

This part of the brain is a big reason why human and primate brains are so complex. Parrots have an enlarged medial spiriform nucleus. This is a circuit that is present in birds but missing in mammals. It serves the same function as the pontine nuclei.

Parrots have a bigger medial spiriform nucleus than other birds. They can outsmart most other species. Being smarter means that they can:

  • Find food faster
  • Take territories
  • Steal resources
  • Sense danger

Avoiding Predators

Their intelligence allows them to avoid predators better than other birds. Parrots are prey animals, so other dangerous animals want to eat them. Their ability to sense danger keeps them alive for longer than other birds.

Outperforming Predators

Flying takes energy. Fortunately for parrots, they have plenty of energy to spare due to their high metabolism. It’s also thanks to their high metabolism that parrots can outperform their predators (such as bats and eagles) in flying.

Eagles and bats can fly up to 125 and 200 miles, respectively, without stopping. Parrots can fly for 230 miles minimum (without including gliding flight). When trying to escape predators in the air, parrots have an advantage. It is also said that they are more likely to win fights than other birds because they have so much energy.

This intelligence has led to better survival tactics. The better they were at surviving, the longer they were able to live. This eventually ingrained itself in their genetics, letting them earn their long lifespans.

How Long Do Parrots Live as Pets?

The parrot species that live the longest are:

  • African grey parrots
  • Caiques
  • Amazon parrots
  • Cockatiels
  • Cockatoos
  • Conures
  • Lories
  • Macaws
  • Senegal parrots
  • Eclectus parrots

In many studies done on the longevity of parrots, the average ages given are incorrect. That’s because they include the ages of both captive and wild parrots that die in their youth (less than 4 years of age). These numbers are based on early studies on parrots, which were mostly done in the wild.

Pet parrots are less likely to die while young. According to the Zoological Society of London, the average age in captive parrots may be higher than estimated. Many parrot species are not commonly kept in captivity. Any estimate of how long they live comes from studies on wild parrots. That means some species are only rumored to live long, with no actual basis for the rumor.

Here is the true average age in parrots, based on observing over 83,000 captive parrots of different species. These calculations remove juvenile parrot deaths from the equation:

Parrot SpeciesMaximum Life Span Recorded (in years)Average Age (in years)
Eclectus parrot40.769
Hyacinth macaw54.2618.23
Lear’s macaw43.5717.86
Blue and yellow macaw48.5212.55
Green-winged macaw63.0414.44
Sun conure29.7010.98
Patagonian conure34.1211.19
Blue-throated conure20.3816.85
Tui parakeet15.1510.01
Black-capped parrot27.0713.21
Yellow-lored amazon22.0512.33
Festive amazon30.3118.11
Red-tailed amazon23.2021.93
Red-crowned amazon26.9415.37
St. Vincent amazon36.5819.87
Carolina parakeet15.1515.03
Slender-billed corella43.4511.70
Kaka35.4612.55
Golden‐mantled racquet‐tailed parrot24.6515.78

Do Parrots Live Longer in Captivity or in the Wild?

There is much debate about whether pet parrots live longer than wild parrots. It has been difficult to get a clear answer as it depends on what parrots require and how owners care for their birds.

It is also difficult for researchers to study wild parrots for long periods of time. As a matter of fact, most of the estimates on how long parrots live in the wild are based on older studies. These are from a time when our environment looked different from now. So, do parrots live longer in captivity or in the wild? It’s still uncertain.

How Parrots Live Better In The Wild

Some say parrots are better living off in the wild but are they right?

Social Aspect

According to the University of Veterinary Medicine, social isolation shortens the lifespan of African grey parrots. In the wild, parrots live in groups. They are highly social and don’t do well in isolation. While many bird lovers do have more than one parrot companion, most birds are kept alone.

Parrots have a lot of energy and require plenty of attention. If not trained right, they can become too much to handle. First-time owners who get several parrots learn that raising a single bird can be challenging. As such, they often end up returning the others and keeping one parrot.

Parrots enjoy the company of humans as if they were the same species. However, we must consider that inexperienced owners believe parrots are like any other pet and leave their parrot alone for most of the day.

This results in a low amount of socialization. In comparison to parrots that live in the wild, it’s not adequate. It can even shorten the amount of time that parrots live.

Incomplete Diets

Parrots in the wild have a varied diet, especially if they live on prosperous land. This diet includes berries, which are natural antioxidants that enable parrots to handle oxidative stress. At the moment, the most recommended diet for parrots is pellets. This is mostly because parrots get picky on a seed-based diet. They may only eat the ones that contain the most fat, an issue that a pellet-based diet eliminates.

However, pellets cannot replace the diet a parrot can receive in the wild. Many pellet brands advertise themselves as being able to provide a complete diet. The truth is that pellets are, fundamentally, supplements. Pellets are recommended to owners, mostly because of how inexpensive and convenient they are. As a result, many owners give their parrots pellets as a main meal and use natural foods as supplements.

Because pellets are already supplemental treats, it creates an imbalance in the parrot’s diet. Due to the incomplete diet, parrots are prone to diet-based health issues. These include calcium deficiency, liver diseases, and more.

The addition of food coloring and other artificial additives in pellets has also caused several problems in pet parrots. Owners cannot fully replicate the natural diet a wild parrot has. However, food is the most vital part of the well-being of any living organism. Because of this, people believe it affects the lives of parrots in captivity.

how long do parrots live?

Stress

Stressful situations can wear anyone down, including animals. Parrots are prey to many animals, such as snakes, bats, and hawks. It is in their nature to be on high alert when they detect sudden noises and movements. The thing is, a parrot’s stress from sudden movements (or sounds) can become dangerous when it is constant.

No living being is mentally equipped to be stressed for long periods of time. It takes a toll on the body. When living among humans, parts of human life can disrupt a parrot’s mental state and send it into a frenzy. These include:

  • Children
  • Dogs
  • Cars
  • Fireworks
  • Vacuum cleaners
  • Blow dryers
  • TV and radio

Rehoming

Sudden changes in the environment of a parrot will increase their stress levels. Unfortunately, parrots get rehomed constantly. Owners do not expect to make such huge commitments when raising parrots, who are naturally demanding. A parrot can have 7 to 11 owners in its lifetime. The constant relocating can become too stressful.

Hardiness

A life of adversity shapes parrots into survivors. In contrast to domestic pets, wild parrots:

  • Have more exercise
  • Fight more
  • Fly more
  • Encounter dangerous situations more often

This results in wild parrots being stronger than those in captivity. This helps them recover from diseases faster and have a greater chance of surviving accidents.

Do Parrots Live Better In Captivity?

Of course, humans have been keeping parrots as pets for thousands of years. This has given us time to study just how long parrots can live in captivity. We can also see the benefits that human intervention can provide. These include:

Better Care

Pet parrots have access to better medical care, which is not available for birds in the wild. Healthy parrots can tough out injuries and illnesses in the great outdoors. However, most of them die in the process. A parrot in captivity doesn’t have to endure health issues for long periods of time, extending their lives.

Less Hardship

A captive parrot will almost always go through fewer hardships than a wild one. This is especially true in the past few years. Predators, weather, and diseases are the first things that wild parrots will endure.

However, there are more dangers to living in nature. Because of their popularity as pets, thousands of parrots are smuggled illegally into the U.S. Many of them die during the trip. The ones that make it live a life of trauma-induced self-mutilation and destructive behavior. Deforestation and expanding human populations drive wild parrots out of their home and into unknown territory.

However, a loving home and a tranquil life in captivity can ease the pain. It can also lessen the hardships a parrot goes through for the rest of its life. In this regard, pet parrots live much better, longer lives.

Less Oxidative Stress

The more active a parrot is, the more its metabolism has to work. This increases the number of free radicals in the body and accelerates the aging process. For female parrots in the wild, the activity that takes the heaviest toll on them is reproduction.

Many owners don’t want parrots for the sake of breeding them. Discouraging breeding behavior in parrots is common practice amongst casual bird owners. A parrot is more likely to live longer if it spends less time laying eggs.

More Fun

Parrots are smart. It’s no surprise that they also engage in and enjoy playful behaviors like other smart creatures. Wild parrots play with each other and have a lot of fun doing so. However, it’s nothing compared to the brain-stimulating games that pet parrots can enjoy with humans. Humans offer:

This allows them to develop at a higher rate mentally. The increased brain activity and joy felt from engaging in fun tasks reduce stress. That can raise a parrot’s life expectancy.

How Long Will My Parrot Live?

The lifespan of your bird will depend on their:

  • Species (African greys live longer than budgies, for example)
  • Level of care
  • Quality of food
  • Amount of enrichment
  • Company

Parrots are highly-intelligent creatures that have evolved to live, in some cases, just as long as humans.