Parrots make life-long companions due to their incredible life expectancy. Some large parrots, such as macaws, live for 50+ years in the wild and even longer in the safety of captivity.
Parrots’ genes have evolved in a way that primed them to live a long life. Other birds evolved to reproduce quickly, 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 natural effects of aging. Of course, the average lifespan of a parrot depends on the species and various lifestyle factors.
Why Do Parrots Live So Long?
Most birds die young, so they need to reproduce quickly to maintain their numbers. This deteriorates their bodies and shortens their lifespan considerably.
Parrots compensated for this need to sustain their species differently as they had the necessary intelligence to survive. Their high IQ allows them to avoid predators in different ways, thus preserving their numbers.
These factors contribute to how parrots have evolved:
The smaller an animal is, the shorter its life span will be.
The largest macaw species (the hyacinth macaw) weighs as much as a small chihuahua and is as long as a domestic pig. Chihuahuas live for 12-20 years and pigs live for 15-20 years, while the hyacinth macaw lives for up to 50 years.
What separates these creatures is their metabolism. Mice, rabbits, chickens, guinea pigs, dogs, cats, and other small animals rarely live beyond 20. Horses, blue whales, elephants, gorillas, and other big animals do.
The reason that longevity in relation to size is so crucial is their body temperature and metabolism.
Volume exists in a space relative to the total surface area in that space.
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 they inhabit. They do this faster than a large 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 tongues out so as not to overheat.
These mechanisms require a certain amount of energy. An animal’s metabolism facilitates this process. Metabolism is the chemical function that turns food into energy. However, this causes oxidative stress.
Small animals are more likely to overheat or freeze due to their size, requiring a faster metabolism than bigger animals to survive.
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’s 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 birds (like parrots) because their high metabolism leads to accelerated aging.
Parrots also have high metabolisms, like most bird species. However, their high metabolism is a trait that’s 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 requirement 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:
This trains an animal’s genes to be short-lived. However, that changes if the bird takes the path of parrots. Parrots can live longer when a bird species spends millions of years:
- Outsmarting competition
- Outperforming predators
- Avoiding accidents
- Priming their genes for longevity
Their intelligence affected their lifespans. They were able to survive longer, so this new trait could be set in their genetics. This was done by:
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 major 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 larger medial spiriform nucleus than other birds. This means that they can outsmart most other species. Being smarter means that they can:
- Find food faster
- Take territories
- Steal resources
- Sense danger
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.
Flying uses up energy, but parrots have spare energy due to their high metabolism. It’s also due to their high metabolism that parrots can escape predators, such as bats and eagles, when flying.
Eagles and bats can fly up to 125 and 200 miles without stopping. Parrots can fly for 230 miles minimum (not including gliding flight). When trying to escape predators in the air, parrots have a distinct advantage. They’re also 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, allowing parrots to live for longer than other birds.
Do Parrots Live Longer in Captivity or The Wild?
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, the answer is uncertain.
How Parrots Live Better In The Wild
Some experts claim that parrots are better off living in the wild. Here’s how:
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 cope well in isolation. While many bird lovers have more than one parrot companion, most parrots are kept alone.
Parrots are energetic and require a lot of social interaction. First-time owners who get several parrots discover that raising a single bird can be challenging. So, 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 that parrots are like any other pet and leave their parrot alone for most of the day.
This results in poor socialization and stress, shortening the amount of time that parrots live.
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.
Pellets cannot replace the diet that parrots can get in the wild. Many pellet brands advertise themselves as being able to provide a complete diet, but this isn’t the case.
Because pellets are supplemental treats, it creates an imbalance in the parrot’s diet. Due to their incomplete diet, parrots are prone to diet-based health issues, such as calcium deficiency and fatty liver disease.
Parrots are prey to many animals, such as snakes, bats, and hawks.
They need to be on high alert when they detect sudden noises and movements. Stress due to sudden movements, noises, and flashing lights can be detrimental to a parrot’s health.
No living being is mentally equipped to be stressed for long periods of time. Unfortunately, parts of human life can disrupt a parrot’s mental state and send it into a frenzy. These include:
- Vacuum cleaners
- Blow dryers
- TV and radio
Sudden changes to a parrot’s living environment will increase its stress levels.
Unfortunately, parrots get rehomed all the time. Owners don’t expect to make such huge commitments when raising parrots. A parrot may have 7 to 11 owners in its lifetime.
A life of adversity shapes parrots into survivors. In contrast to domestic pets, wild parrots:
- Get more exercise
- Fight regularly
- Fly long distances
- Encounter dangerous situations
This results in wild parrots being stronger and more resilient than those in captivity.
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 how long parrots can live in captivity. We can also see the benefits that human intervention can provide. These include:
Pet parrots have access to veterinary care, which is unavailable to 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, thus extending their lives.
A captive parrot will usually experience fewer hardships than a wild parrot.
There are more dangers associated with the great outdoors. 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 that pain. It can also lessen the hardship a parrot goes through for the rest of its life. In this regard, pet parrots usually live much better, longer lives.
Less Oxidative Stress
The more active a parrot is, the harder its metabolism has to work, increasing the number of free radicals and accelerating the aging process. For female parrots, the activity that takes the greatest 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 she spends less time laying eggs.
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:
The increased brain activity and joy felt from engaging in fun tasks reduce stress, increasing their life expectancy.
How Long Will My Parrot Live?
The lifespan of a parrot will depend on its:
- Level of care
- Quality of food
Parrots are clever animals that have evolved to live, in some cases, almost as long as humans. The larger the parrot, the longer its average life expectancy.