How long do birds live? Are we seeing the same cardinals at our feeders year after year?
Those are good questions! Birds don’t age like people, and some can live much longer than others. But are there some species that can live longer than people?
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How Long Do Birds Live?
On average, most wild birds probably live to be around 7 to 10 years of age. Several bird species live longer and some live even less than 5 years. Not to mention, most birds die within their first year of life.
With that in mind, as a generalization, small birds (especially migratory species) live for the least amount of time, and big species live the longest. Birds like the Swainson’s Thrush, various warblers, and Northern Cardinals tend to live short lives of three to five years. However, to make up for their limited lifespans, each nesting season, they usually raise two large broods.
The opposite is true for most larger birds and some tropical species that live for an average of 15 or 20 years. They tend to have smaller broods and only nest once a year at most.
Seabirds and parrots also raise a few young and might not nest every single year. Both of these types of birds also live the longest. In the wild, shearwaters and petrels routinely live for several decades, and the average albatross lifespan could be 50 years.
Wild macaws and other large parrots can also live for several decades. In captivity, these and all bird species live much longer.
What Factors Affect Their Longevity?
In the wild, there are a lot of factors that affect avian lifespans. Small birds get caught by predators, mostly in their first year of life and when they become old or ill. Many raptors also die in their first year simply because they don’t learn how to hunt well enough.
Migration can also be perilous. A number of birds die after getting caught in storms or flying too far over open water.
However, the highest amounts of bird mortality are associated with human-related factors.
These include window strikes, domestic cats, pollution, and hunting. Window strikes happen when small birds see vegetation reflected in a window and fly into it. Few survive their injuries, and during migration, this can affect thousands of birds.
Cats also kill many birds. Some ornithologists estimate that cats kill one billion birds per year! Even the most easygoing cats will kill birds. They just have very strong instincts to hunt birds and other small animals and are naturally skilled in catching them.
Learn more: How many birds are in the world?
Pollution is another major killer, and pesticides have been steadily killing off birds by eliminating insects they feed on.
In some places, hunting affects birds. However, in North America, hunting is highly regulated and doesn’t have a negative effect on bird populations.
Some of the Most Impressive Lifespans
Wisdom, the Laysan Albatross
A Laysan Albatross called Wisdom is the oldest known living bird. Wisdom was banded at the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in 1956. Although no one knows when she was born, biologists believe Wisdom probably hatched in 1951.
In 2023, this would make her around 71 to 72 years old! Over the years, USGS scientists have tracked Wisdom and calculated that she has flown over 3,000,000 miles. That’s like flying 120 times around the planet!
They have also had to change her tag six times. Amazingly, this special albatross has raised 30 to 36 chicks and was still laying eggs well into her 60s! The last time she was seen incubating an egg was in 2020; that chick hatched in 2021.
Learn more: Bird Facts & Statistics
Sadly, that same year, although Wisdom came back to Midway, her long-term mate did not. She didn’t breed in 2021, nor in 2022, and has not picked a new mate.
Cocky Bennet was a Sulphur-crested Cockatoo that may have lived to be an incredible 120 years of age! If he did live that long, this would make Cocky Bennett the longest-lived bird of all time.
This old parrot lived in Australia, mostly at the Sea Breeze Hotel in the Sydney suburb of Blakehurst. During his time there, he became locally famous and was known for saying phrases like “One more feather and I’ll fly.” When other birds bothered him, he also said, “One at a time, gentlemen, please.”
Before he lived at the hotel, Cocky was a ship captain’s pet and had traveled to many places.
Cookie, Pink Cockatoo
This Pink or “Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo” is recognized as the oldest bird on record by the Guinness Book of World Records. Unlike some other long-lived parrots, Cookie’s age could be verified because his exact birthdate was known.
Born on June 30, 1933, Cookie lived for 83 years at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago. During his time at the zoo, he became a well-known local animal celebrity and was loved by many people. He even received fan mail from all around the world!
He lived much longer than 40 to 60 years; the average age for his species in captivity.
Other birds that tend to live longer
Other bird species that tend to live longer are large raptors, woodpeckers, flamingoes, and seabirds. For whatever reason, the larger birds seem to have the longest lifespans.
Some eagles in captivity have lived for many years and the oldest was a huge Philippine Eagle that lived to be 50 years old!
Eagles can also have long lives in the wild. One Bald Eagle was 38 when it died after being struck by a car.
There was a captive Andean Condor, who lived to be 80, a Greater Flamingo that lived for 83 years, and a few of the large macaw species have been rumored to live for well over 100 years.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long do most common birds live?
Most common birds live for 7 to 10 years.
Which bird has the longest lifespan?
Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo, also known as the Pink Cockatoo, has the longest lifespan. The number one example of this is Cookie, who lived to be 83 years old.
What bird has the shortest lifespan?
The bird that has the shortest lifespan is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Their average lifespan is 3-4 years, but most of them die within the first year.