A Bird’s Life

How long can birds live in the wild? Anyone who has found a dead bird may wonder about their lifespan. Scientists have as well. For decades, they have been marking birds with numbered metal bands (also known as rings). If that bird is ever recovered, years later, the mystery of a bird’s lifespan can be answered.

What have these scientists found? Well, in general, larger birds live longer than smaller birds… some record-holders include a 53-year-old Laysan Albatross, a 34-year-old Great Frigatebird, and a 32-year-old Golden Eagle. Many penguins and auks regularly reach their 20’s and some hawks and owls may live over 30 years.

These long-lived birds don’t need to raise many chicks in their lifetime, to replenish the population. Albatross are an extreme example. They raise only one chick every other year.

Smaller birds, like robins, chickadees and bluebirds, have a hard go of it. Their record lifespan rarely reach 10 or 15 years old, and an average bird may only live 2-3 years. They are particularly vulnerable in their first spring and summer after hatching- predation, cold, starvation, and disease take out many. But these short-lived bird species compensate by hatching many chicks each year.

Most bird species can live longer lives in captivity than in the wild. Record-breakers include an Andean Condor that reached 77 years old, and a common raven and a cockatoo that both reached 80!