Why Do Parrots Live So Long? (The Truth)

  • Time to read: 10 min.

When someone displays interest in owning a pet that would be their best friend for life, the obvious recommendation that one would give is parrots. Dogs may be a man’s best friend, but most of them can’t live after their fifteenth birthday; meanwhile, some parrots live longer than their owners. Why do parrots live so long, and what factors help them achieve this feat?

Parrots live long because of three interconnected reasons: the ability to fly, generational evolution, and oxidation. Parrots have developed systems built into a cellular level that slow down metabolic processes resulting in a low free-radical count. This system allows parrots to age slowly.

Why do parrots live so long, and how can you keep them healthy? These are some of the few questions we will discuss in this article. 

The Secret To Living A Long Life 

How do parrots live so long? Parrots are one of the longest-living bird species, and their lifespan can range from 15 to 70 years. Of course, some outliers live shorter or longer than their peers.

A lifespan of 15 to 70 is quite a range, and it can come off as pretty vague. Many variables affect your parrot’s lifespan; one of them said “integral variables” in determining the lifespan is its species. Below, we list the possible lifespans of parrots per species.

 How Long Should A Parrot Live If They Lead A Healthy Life?

  • Cockatoo (40 to 70 years)
  • Amazon (40 to 70 years)
  • Macaw (35 to 50 years)
  • Cockatiel (15 to 25 years)
  • Conure (15 to 20 years)

Can Parrots Live 100 Years?

Can parrots live for over 100 years? Unfortunately, a parrot residing for more than 70 years is unlikely. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the oldest parrot in their records was a parrot named “Cookie,” a Major Mitchell’s cockatoo living in the United States. Unfortunately, Cookie the parrot died on August 27, 2016, at 82 years and 88 days old. (source)

However, despite the Guinness Book of World Records’ claim of the oldest parrot, a BBC article dated January 2004 has claimed that a particular political figure, Sir Winston Churchill, has had a parrot that, at the time of writing, the said BBC article, is age 104. The current owner, Peter Oram, named the parrot Charlie. According to reports, Winston Churchill bought Charlie the parrot two years before World War II. (source)

Why Do Parrots Live So Long?

In a year, black rats get born, mature, breed, have babies, and die. On the other hand, some species of turtles live for more than a century, some having lifespans twice as long as an average human. It seems that animals, compared to one another, can have widely different lifespans.

Most of the time, one can quickly point out why a particular species can live for so long. For example, for most of their life, turtles move slowly, resulting in prolonged metabolism. Because their production of free radicals is dead, their aging process extends, and they age slower.

Meanwhile, rats in the wild can only live for so long, as they are incredibly prone to predators. A night in the wild is much riskier than in pampered domestic pet shops. As such, in a feat to save their DNA, rats evolved to mature, breed, and give birth quickly to preserve their genetic makeup. 

So while we have these explanations for these animals, why do parrots live for so long? What could be the reasons? Below, we list the hypotheses scientists have postulated.

Why Do Parrots Have Long Lifespans?

  • The ability to fly has enabled parrots to live longer in the wild
  • Parrots have an innate intelligence that helps them assess risks
  • Due to them naturally living older, parrots have changed how their metabolic processes work
  • Parrots have a good diet

The Ability To Fly 

Parrots may not be as small as rats or any other rodent, but they have an abnormally long lifespan for their size. Most of the time, the mechanisms of how a parrot’s metabolism works are quite different compared to other long-living animals. Parrots’ innate characteristics make them susceptible to faster aging– yet they defy such a logical point and continue to live long anyway.

According to the Eastern Kentucky University School of Ornithology, birds have a high basal metabolic rate compared to other animals, and as such, they use energy at high speeds. Many attribute this property because parrots are small in size. (source)

Moreover, parrots have a higher resting heart rate as well as temperature. In addition, parrots move pretty fast, increasing energy consumption and boosting free-radical production. Yet, parrots still live long.

Correlation Of Flight And Lifespan

According to a study, there are correlations between the ability of flight to the extension of lifespan. Naturally, large animals will have a longer lifespan as they move slower and require much less energy to regulate their temperature than something like an ant. This ability makes the oxidative process slow, thus making aging slower.

However, according to Kevin Healy, one of the researchers and a professor of Bioengineering at UC Berkeley, “we show that, over and above the effect of body mass, an essential factor enabling longer lifespan is the ability to fly.”

By being a bird that can fly, they can extend their lifespan. As to why this is, we will talk about this in the section wherein we will be having a discourse about evolution. 

Intelligence And Brain 

Aside from flying, parrots are known for being notoriously intelligent and having complex cognitive prowess. According to an article by “News Scientists,” studies have found that parrots can develop such a holistic cognitive ability partly because their brains develop similarly to how human brains would. Being able to copy and reproduce human speech is one thing, but their survival abilities are incredibly helpful in surviving in the wild. (source)

In their primitive environment, parrots can survive long due to their ability to assess risks and follow specific protocols to avoid harm. While this ability is not very helpful in urban, domestic environments, it has enabled the parrots to modify their internal systems to live longer. Let’s go back to the rat example, shall we?

A Primitive Structure

Rats live for a short period partially because of how nature structured their primitive environments. Rats are at the near bottom of the food chain– and, as such, are prone to risks that other animals may not have to worry about, wherein one of the said risks is the danger of being eaten by a predator.

Because predators often shorten the lifespan of rats, they have adapted to reproduce as fast as possible. Because aging starts at the age of sexual maturity, rats develop their sexual organs quite swiftly, so they age fast. 

Another *possible reason why parrots live long, although not necessarily related to cognitive ability, is brain size. Compared to peers of the same size, parrots have a relatively large brain. In a Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona news report, animals of large brain sizes tend to live longer. However, the study has limited its tests to mammals and has excluded birds so far. As such, take this information with a grain of salt. (Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, 2010)

Living Longer And Evolution

Living Longer And Evolution
African Greys can live for decades, sometimes longer than people.

We have mentioned this a lot earlier, about how parrots live longer in their natural environments due to innate abilities that aid in their survival, such as their ability to fly, intelligence, and national swiftness. Over time, these abilities allow parrots to adjust their metabolisms and life cycles through evolution.

Evolution takes a long time from generation to generation, slightly shifting an animal’s features to another. Parrots, in this context, have allowed them to reach longer lifespans and slower metabolic damage that will enable them to age slowly. Parrots, over time, mature slowly and die off slowly.

No Predators Mean Longer Lifespan

This reason is why elephants sexually mature at age 14 since they are invulnerable to most predators. These elephants can enjoy lives not worrying about extremely dangerous predators. With no driver hastening them to reproduce quickly, they live long.

On the other hand, bees must reproduce with swiftness in mind because they die off quickly. They must ensure that their genetic build-up lives on before being killed by predators or the elements.

Circling back to parrots, the answer to why parrots live so long is because they can afford to. Due to their invulnerability to most predators that plague small insects, they have evolved to adapt to a long lifespan, maturing slowly and living longer. 

Good Diet

Parrots live on a diet that utilizes vegetables, grains, seeds, and fruits. The diet that parrots indulge in is incredibly healthy, promoting a good balance of nutritional components. Frankly, one of the things that can make animals in general live longer is something that one can define and postulate through observing their diet.

However, as much as diet can be the saving grace for a parrot’s lifespan, it can also cause great harm when utilizing unhealthy options. A diet that uses food such as those high in salt and fats can be devastating. 

One common mistake parrot owners make is that they rely too much on seeds as a parrot’s leading source of nutrients. Seeds are incredibly high on calories and are not as nutritionally dense as fruits and vegetables. Many mistake seeds as a good food option for parrots as parrots love eating them– however, just because your parrot loves them does not mean that they are the best food option. (source)

Why Do Parrots Live So Long, And How Can We Extend Their Lifespan?

Although parrots, in general, are long-lived, the lifespan that your parrot has is highly dependent on its lifestyle. As a responsible pet owner, it is your task to ensure that your parrot lives a healthy and pain-free life. Below, we present three things to help expand and improve your parrot’s lifespan.

The Two Variables Intended For A Long-Lived Parrot

  • Good exercise
  • Good diet (discussed earlier)
  • Great parenting

Good Exercise

Although wild parrots may not need a lot of handholding when it comes to exercise, bird breeders have done cultivation in a way that is alienating for domestic parrots, especially when compared to their primitive roots. They are often kept in cages, staring at your living room wall for hours and hours. Do not do that!

Parrots are incredibly active animals, and they would want to exercise for many reasons. Below, we cite three common ones.

Reasons Why You Should Let Your Parrot Exercise

  • Parrots need exercise to be healthy.
  • Parrots are intelligent animals that need their cognitive abilities to be constantly stimulated, preferably through physical activity.
  • Parrots are easily bored when not engaged in any activity.

With exercise, you ensure that your parrot is physically active and that its cardiovascular system is well and running. Moreover, it also regulates calories and other fat-inducing chemicals inside its digestive system. 

To let your parrot exercise, let them out of the cage once. Buy a toy for the parrot to play with, or use creative games that allow you and your parrot to bond together.

Good Parenting

Good parenting is an integral part of taking care of your parrot. When we say good parenting, we mean that one must be fully aware of the responsibilities of a parrot owner. For example, is your parrot updated with the latest shots? 

Parrots can receive vaccines through veterinarians, one typical example of which is the polyomavirus vaccine. Make sure to visit your veterinarian to assess which vaccine you should get.

Another thing is that you should know if your parrot is sick. Below, we list common parrot diseases and common symptoms to look out for as a pet owner. (source

Common Parrot Illnesses

  • avian polyomavirus
  • chlamydiosis
  • candidiasis
  • proventricular dilatation disease

Common Signs To Take Your Parrot To The Vet

  • sneezing, nasal discharge
  • feathers that stay messy
  • a change in appetite (positive or negative)
  • unable to maintain a sense of balance
  • the difference in dropping consistency or color

Summary

Why do parrots live so long? There are four significant variables, but one can trace them through their evolutionary path. Being able to fly and intelligent animals, parrots, have evolved to live longer, slowing down metabolic damage.

Parrots by themselves create a lot of free radicals due to their fast metabolism, which in turn can hasten aging. However, because they developed natural protection from oxidative damage, parrots can live longer. 

Three things can help you improve your parrot’s lifespan. One thing you can do is to always have a planned and healthy diet for your parrot. Moreover, exercise and health checkups are integral.

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  1. Claussen, Kathleen, “How Long Do Parrots Live As Pets?”, PetsMD, July 8, 2021. https://pets.webmd.com/how-long-do-parrots-live
  2. “Oldest parrot ever”, Guinness Book of World Records, last accessed May 8, 2022. https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/442525-oldest-parrot-ever
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