Parrots make life-long companions due to their high life expectancy. Some large parrots, such as macaws, live for 50-100 years in the wild and even longer in the safety of captivity.
Parrots’ genes have evolved, priming them to live long lives. 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 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. Unfortunately, this deteriorates their bodies, reduces their intelligence levels, and shortens their lifespan considerably.
Parrots compensated for this need to sustain their species differently as they had the intelligence to survive. Their high IQ allows them to avoid predators, thus preserving their numbers.
The following factors contribute to how parrots have evolved:
The smaller an animal, the shorter its lifespan.
The largest macaw species (hyacinth macaws) weighs as much as a small chihuahua and is as long as a pig. Chihuahuas live for 12-20 years, pigs live for 15-20 years, while hyacinth macaws live for 40-50 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 do so regularly.
The reason that longevity relative to size is so crucial is their body temperature and metabolic rate.
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 it inhabits, which they do faster than large animals.
Warm-blooded animals have certain biological mechanisms that retain their body temperature. For example, humans sweat, and dogs stick their tongues out to cool down.
Metabolism is the chemical function that turns food into energy but causes oxidative stress.
3/ 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, so small birds 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.
4/ Slower Reproduction Rate
When a small bird’s body deteriorates quickly due to its high metabolism, there’s a biological requirement to reproduce quickly.
They need to produce high numbers of offspring to compensate for those that die young. Without this, the species wouldn’t survive. After all, birds often die in the wild due to the following:
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 spend thousands of years:
- High intelligence levels.
- Agility and endurance.
- Developing sounds and calls to warn flock members.
- Unihemispheric slow-wave sleep, where half the brain remains active.
- Elevated resting glucose levels.
- Accident avoidance.
- Knowing what foods to eat and avoid.
Parrots’ intelligence affected their lifespans in the following ways:
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 major reason human and primate 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, which means they can outsmart most other species. Being smarter means that they can:
- Find food and water faster
- Win territories
- Take resources
- Sense danger
- Alert flockmates
Their intelligence allows them to avoid predators better than most other birds.
Parrots are prey animals, so other dangerous animals want to eat them. Their ability to sense and react to danger keeps them alive for longer.
Flying requires lots of energy, but parrots have extra energy because they have a high metabolism. Due to their high metabolic rate, parrots can often escape 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 resulted in 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, and these are from a time when the environment was different from now. So, the answer to this question is uncertain.
How Parrots Live Better In The Wild
Some avian experts believe that parrots are better off living in the wild for these reasons:
According to the University of Veterinary Medicine, social isolation shortens the lifespan of African greys.
Wild parrots live in groups, so they’re highly social and dislike isolation. While many bird owners have more than one parrot companion, most parrots are kept alone.
Parrots are energetic and require social interaction. First-time owners who get several parrots discover that raising a single bird can be challenging. So, they often return the others and keep one parrot.
Parrots enjoy the company of humans. However, we must consider that owners believe that parrots are like any other pet and leave their parrots alone for most of the day.
This results in poor socialization and stress, shortening the lifespan of parrots.
Wild parrots have a varied diet, especially those who’ve found prosperous land. This diet includes fruit and vegetables, which are natural antioxidants that enable parrots to reduce oxidative stress.
Pellets can’t replace the diet that parrots can get in the wild. Many pellet brands advertise themselves as providing a complete diet, but this isn’t the case, as parrots need other foods.
Parrots are preyed on by many animals, such as snakes, bats, jaguars, monkeys, and hawks.
They must be on high alert when detecting sudden noises and movements. Stress due to sudden movements, noises, and flashing lights can harm a parrot’s health.
No living being is mentally equipped to be stressed for long periods. Unfortunately, parts of human life can disrupt a parrot’s mental state, including the following:
- Vacuum cleaners
- Blow dryers
- TV and radio
Sudden changes to a parrot’s living environment will increase its stress levels.
Unfortunately, parrots are rehomed regularly. Owners don’t expect to make such commitments when raising and caring for parrots. Some unfortunate 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
- Fight regularly
- Fly long distances
- Encounter dangerous situations
- Cope with extreme weather conditions
This results in wild parrots being stronger and more resilient than those in captivity. Consequently, a pet parrot released into the wild wouldn’t survive.
Do Parrots Live Better In Captivity?
Humans have been keeping 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 human intervention can provide, which include:
Pet parrots have access to veterinary care that isn’t available to wild birds.
Healthy parrots can survive injuries and illnesses in the great outdoors, but many die. Parrots in captivity don’t have to endure most illnesses and diseases for extended periods, thus extending their life.
There are more dangers associated with the great outdoors than captivity. Due to their popularity as pets, thousands of parrots are smuggled illegally into the U.S., and some die during 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.
A captive parrot will usually experience fewer hardships than a wild parrot, so they live longer lives.
Less Oxidative Stress
The more active a parrot is and the more food it consumes, the harder its metabolism has to work, increasing the number of free radicals and accelerating the aging process.
The activity that takes the greatest toll on female parrots is reproduction. So, discouraging breeding behavior in captive parrots is common practice among casual bird owners.
Parrots are smart and enjoy playful behaviors like many other intelligent animals.
Wild parrots play with each other and have a lot of 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 will depend on the following factors:
- Overall health
- Level of care
- Quality of food
- Dietary diversity
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.