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How Long Do Owls Live? The Mystery Unraveled

How long do owls live?

How long do owls live? When I hear owls calling in my neighborhood and nearby nature preserves, I often wonder about that! For years, in wooded areas of upstate New York, I have been hearing different owls calling from the same spots.

I can’t help but wonder if I have been hearing the same birds or their offspring? It’s impossible to say but, after a certain number of years, I figure some of the owls must have died and been replaced by younger birds.

So, how long can owls live? How many of those calling owls are the same individuals? See this article for answers about the lifespans of owls!


How Long Do Owls Generally Live?

Owls kept in captivity live much longer than birds in the wild. Large owls also tend to live longer than small species.

In general, in the wild, small owls like screech-owls can live for 8 years or so. Pygmy-owls and the tiny Elf Owl are thought to live even less, maybe for just 5 years in the wild! In captivity, screech-owls have lived for 13 to 15 years, and Elf Owls have lived for 14 years.

It's virtually impossible to tell an owls age just by looking at them

It’s virtually impossible to tell an owl’s age just by looking at them. This could be a young bird or an old bird.

Medium-sized species like Barred Owls, Short-eared Owls, and Long-eared Owls are believed to live for 10 or 12 years in the wild but can live for 16 or even 20 years in captivity. The biggest owl species in North America, the Great Gray Owls, Snowy Owls, and Great Horned Owls live the longest.

These big raptors usually live to be around 15 years in the wild, and can live for 30 years or more in captivity!

Owls don’t live as long in the wild because when they get just a bit too old to catch prey, they don’t survive for long. Small owls are also very susceptible to being preyed on by larger owl species.


Can You Tell If An Owl Is Getting Older?

It’s pretty hard to tell if an owl is getting older. Once most owl species reach adulthood, they look pretty much the same for the rest of their lives. However, in the wild, we might not notice when owls get old because once they reach a certain age, they don’t last long.

As soon as an owl gets ill or doesn’t fly as fast on account of its age, it doesn’t catch as much food and probably doesn’t live for another night or two.

However, in captivity, owls don’t have to deal with any problems catching food. They can live much longer than they would have in the wild, and we see some of the effects that aging has on them.

When they are getting older, owls don’t fly as fast or as agile as they used to. In captivity, we see this with owls spending a lot more time resting than moving around. Their feathers also tend to look more worn and can fall out. As they get older, owls can also develop cataracts and other eye problems.

At this point, the owl is pretty old and can still live, but only by feeding the bird and taking care of it.


Fun Facts About Owls And Their Lifespan

  • The Eurasian Eagle-Owl lives longer than most other owl species. In captivity, one bird lived for more than 60 years!
  • In North America, the owl with the longest lifespan is the Great Horned Owl. In the wild, these big raptors can live more than 25 years. In captivity, one bird lived to be nearly 50.
  • The owl with the shortest lifespan is the pygmy-owl. There are many species of pygmy-owls and not much is actually known about most of their lifespans. However, pygmy-owls in captivity tend to only live for three to five years.
  • Many owls don’t live past their first year of life. In common with other raptors, after leaving the nest, they have to learn how to hunt as quickly as possible while also avoiding more experienced, larger birds of prey.
  • Barn Owls live around 4 to 9 years in the wild. Since they can eat 1,000 rodents in a year, one Barn Owl could eat anywhere from 4,000 to 9,000 mice and rats during its lifetime!
  • Some of the main predators of owls are other owls! Many owls prey on smaller owl species. They catch and eat smaller owls for food while also eliminating competition.
  • Some owls store dead mice and other animals that they catch and kill. They do this to have an emergency food source in case prey becomes scarce.


Frequently Asked Questions

What is the longest lifespan of an owl?

The longest lifespan of an owl is that of the Eurasian Eagle Owl. Some eagle-owls in captivity have lived for more than 65 years!

What is the average lifespan of an owl?

How long an owl lives depends on the species, but most owls usually live at least 5 years. After that, it depends largely on the species – for example, larger owls live around 12 years, and even longer in captivity.

Do owls mate for life?

Yes, most owls do mate for life. However, if an owl’s mate dies, they might find another mate.

About the Author

Patrick O'Donnell

Patrick O'Donnell has been focused on all things avian since the age of 7. Since then, he has helped with ornithological field work in the USA and Peru, and has guided many birding tours, especially in Costa Rica. He develops birding apps for BirdingFieldGuides and loves to write about birds, especially in his adopted country of Costa Rica.

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