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why do parrots live so long?

Why Do Parrots Live Longer Than Other Birds?

Last Updated on: 23rd November 2023, 09:45 am

Birds live longer than comparable-sized mammals, and parrots live longer than other birds. For example, cockatoos and Amazon parrots are exceptionally long-lived, often surviving for 70+ years.

Parrots have superior survival skills, while their bodies cope better with the effects of aging. Their mitochondrial DNA is uniquely protected from tissue damage.

Parrots’ genes have evolved, priming them to live long lives. Other birds reproduce more frequently, which wears down their bodies, causing them to age faster.

Their large brains and cognitive ability allow parrots to avoid deadly predators and threats.

Why Do Parrots Live So Long?

The following factors contribute to how and why parrots have evolved:

Physical Size

The smaller the animal, the shorter its average lifespan.

The largest macaw (hyacinths) weighs the same as a chihuahua and is as long as a pig. Chihuahuas live 12-20 years, and pigs live 15-20 years. Hyacinth macaws live for 40-60 years.

Mice, rabbits, chickens, guinea pigs, dogs, cats, and other small animals rarely live beyond 20. However, horses, blue whales, elephants, gorillas, and other big animals often live much longer.

Longevity relative to size is crucial due to body temperature and metabolic rate.

Metabolic Rate

Volume exists in a given space relative to the total surface area.

The less volume something has, and the less space there is, the easier it is to cool down or heat up. For example, it’s easier to heat a cup of coffee than a swimming pool.

The same applies to animals. A small animal becomes hot or cold faster based on the temperature of the space it inhabits, which they achieve faster than large animals.

Warm-blooded animals have biological mechanisms that retain their body temperature. For example, humans sweat, and dogs use their tongues to cool down.

Metabolism is the chemical function that turns food into energy. Unfortunately, it causes oxidative stress.

parrot life expectancy in captivity

Oxidative Stress

Small animals are likelier to overheat or freeze due to their size, requiring a faster metabolism than larger animals to survive. The problem is that free radicals are produced during cellular metabolism.

Free radicals are a normal part of the metabolic process. However, they cause oxidative stress.

Oxidative stress damages a being’s mitochondrial DNA and deteriorates the body. Small birds live shorter lives than parrots because their high metabolism accelerates aging.

Parrots’ high metabolism is vital to their evolutionary development and survival.

Slower Reproduction Rate

When a small bird’s body deteriorates due to its high metabolism, it must reproduce more regularly. They must produce high numbers of offspring to compensate for those that die young.

After all, birds often die in the wild due to the following:

  • Starvation.
  • Dehydration.
  • Predators.
  • Illness.
  • Disease.
  • Severe weather.
  • Accidents.

This trains an animal’s genes to be short-lived. However, parrots can live longer when a bird species spends thousands of years evolving the following traits:

  • High intelligence levels.
  • Agility and endurance.
  • Calls to warn flock members.
  • Unihemispheric slow-wave sleep, where half the brain remains active.
  • Elevated resting glucose levels.
  • Accident avoidance techniques.
  • Knowing what foods to eat and avoid.

Intelligence Level

Parrots’ intelligence has improved their lifespans in the following ways:

Outsmarting Competition

Parrots have complex brains that function similarly to humans.

Researchers at the University of Alberta sought to determine 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 significant reason human and primates’ brains are so complex.

Parrots have an enlarged medial spiriform nucleus. This circuit is present in birds but missing in mammals. It serves the same function as the pontine nuclei.

Parrots have a larger medial spiriform nucleus than other birds, enabling them to outsmart most animal species. Being smarter means parrots can:

  • Find food and water faster.
  • Establish new territories.
  • Avoid accidents.
  • Sense danger.
  • Alert flockmates.

Predator Avoidance

Parrots’ intelligence allows them to avoid predators better than most other birds.

They’re prey animals, so other dangerous animals want to eat parrots to aid their survival. Their ability to sense and react to danger keeps them alive longer than other birds.


Flying requires significant energy, but parrots have this due to their fast metabolism. Their high metabolic rate means that parrots can often escape many airborne predators when flying.

Eagles and bats can fly up to 125 and 200 miles without stopping, while parrots can fly for 230 miles, not including gliding flight. However, parrots are vulnerable to the speed and agility of raptors.

Their intelligence led to superior survival tactics, allowing parrots to live longer than other birds.

Do Parrots Live Longer in Captivity or The Wild?

Most estimates of how long parrots live in the wild are based on outdated studies from when the environment was entirely different. On average, captive parrots live much longer lives.

Why Some Parrots Thrive in The Wild

Some experts believe that parrots are better off living in the wild for the following reasons:

Social Aspect

According to the University of Veterinary Medicine, social isolation shortens the lifespan of African grays.

Wild parrots live in flocks because they’re highly social and hate isolation. While some people have several avian companions, most parrots are kept alone.

Parrots require social interaction. First-time owners who get several parrots discover that raising a single bird can be challenging, so they often keep one parrot.

Parrots enjoy the company of humans. However, some owners believe parrots are like other pets and leave them alone most of the day. This results in stress, shortening the lifespan of parrots.

Unsuitable Diet

Wild parrots have a varied diet, especially ones who’ve found bountiful land. Their diet includes grasses, vegetation, fruits, nuts, and vegetables. These contain antioxidants that reduce oxidative stress.

Pellets can’t replace the diet that parrots benefit from in the wild. Many pellet brands advertise themselves as providing a complete diet, but this is seldom true.

how long do parrots live?


Many animals, like snakes, bats, jaguars, monkeys, and hawks, prey on parrots. They stay on high alert when detecting sudden noises and movements.

Stress due to sudden movements, noises, and flashing lights can harm a parrot’s health. It’s common for pet parrots to experience night frights, especially cockatiels.

No animal is equipped to be stressed for long periods. Unfortunately, parts of human life can adversely disrupt a parrot’s mental state, including:

  • Children.
  • Other pets.
  • Cars.
  • Fireworks.
  • Vacuum cleaners.
  • Blow dryers.
  • TV and radio.
  • Roadworks.
  • Traffic.


Parrots are rehomed regularly. Owners don’t expect to make such commitments when raising and caring for parrots. Some parrots may have 7-11 owners in their lifetime.


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

  • Get more exercise.
  • Fly long distances.
  • Encounter dangerous situations.
  • Cope with extreme weather conditions.

This results in wild parrots being stronger and more resilient than captive birds. Consequently, a pet parrot released into the wild wouldn’t be equipped to survive.

Do Parrots Live Better In Captivity?

Humans have kept parrots as pets since 1504, which has enabled us to study how long parrots can live in captivity. We can also see the benefits that humans can provide, which include:

Better Care

Pet parrots have access to veterinary care that’s unavailable to wild birds.

Healthy parrots can survive injuries and illnesses in the great outdoors, but many die. Pet parrots needn’t endure most illnesses for extended periods, thus extending their life.

Less Hardship

There are more dangers associated with the outdoors than captivity. Due to their popularity as pets, thousands of parrots are smuggled illegally into the U.S., with some dying in transit.

The parrots that survive live a life of trauma-induced self-mutilation and destructive behavior.

Also, deforestation and expanding human populations drive wild parrots out of their natural home and into unknown, potentially dangerous territories.

Less Oxidative Stress

The more active a parrot is and the more food it consumes, the harder its metabolism must work, increasing the number of free radicals and accelerating the aging process.

The activity that takes a heavy toll on female parrots is reproduction. Discouraging breeding behavior in parrots is a common practice among owners.

More Fun

Parrots enjoy playful behaviors like many other clever animals.

Wild parrots play with each other and have fun doing so. However, it’s nothing compared to the brain-stimulating games pet parrots can engage in with humans, including:

The increased brain activity and enjoyment reduce stress, increasing their life expectancy.

How Long Will My Parrot Live?

The lifespan of a parrot depends on the following factors:

  • Species.
  • Genetics.
  • Health.
  • Level of care.
  • Quality of food.
  • Dietary diversity.
  • Enrichment.
  • Socialization.

All things being equal, larger parrots live longer than smaller birds.