How long do birds live? (With Pictures)

How long do birds live? (With Pictures)

That is the one question I get a lot. How long do birds live? We have seen different species live between three to over eighty years. A lot depends on the species and how we measure their life spans.

This is a difficult subject to know for certainty as the only way we can measure, other than keeping a bird in captivity, is by banding and recapturing the birds. But this only works if the birds were banded early in their lives.

A whole range of catalysts can influence the mortality rate of bird species. We will look at these and other factors contributing to the longevity of birds. We will also look at why species have huge differences in lifespans.  

When birds start their lives, they go through phases, each influencing their longevity. These are.

  • The eggs
  • Hatchlings
  • Nestlings
  • Fledglings
  • Juveniles
  • Mature Adults
  • Senior

We will go through a few of these to give us an idea of where there are differences between species and why.

The egg

The egg represents the beginning stage of life. This is where the embryos are created through fertilisation and placed in a calcium carbonate shell filled with protective sacs and egg whites.

With smaller birds such as songbirds, starlings and hummingbirds, the time from fertilisation to egg laying is normally 24 hours. Larger species, such as vultures, eagles, and hawks, take about two to three days. Already, the bigger birds are gaining time.

Baby Bird Hatching From Egg

Smaller birds’ clutches are bigger because their mortality rates are much higher. They grow up quickly and reproduce quickly to ensure their survival. The larger birds, on the other hand, reproduce slowly.

They fend off predators more easily, so their predator list is very low. They concentrate on a high survival rate. Their clutches are smaller, mostly about one or two.

The larger birds take longer to hatch as they must grow bigger.

Incubation time examples

Larger birds

SpeciesIncubation period
Albatrosses63 to 79 days
Eagles30 to 59 days
Secretary Birds40 to 46 days

Smaller Birds

SpeciesIncubation period
Larks7 to 14 days
Canaries12 to 17 days
Flycatchers11 to 19 days

The hatchling

The hatchlings arrive in two different states.

Precocial state, meaning these chicks are born in an advanced state with their eyes open. They already have downy feathers. They can walk around and sometimes even swim (like water birds.) After a short while, they can feed themselves. These birds do not take long to leave their nests.

These downy feathers will also soon be replaced with adult-type feathers.

Examples of precocial birds are ducks, geese, and waders.

Hatchling First Cry

The Maleo is an excellent example of precocial birds as they bury their eggs in warm volcanic sands or beach sands, leaving their chicks to get out and fend for themselves.

Altricial state, meaning that these chicks are born quite under-developed with eyes closed and bare skin. They are fully dependent on their parents until they fledge.

Examples of Altricial birds are songbirds, hummingbirds, and woodpeckers.

From nestling to fledging

Nestlings are young birds that have just hatched and need their parents to look after them constantly until they can leave the nest.

The movement from nestlings to fledglings for the larger birds takes longer as they grow slower. The Wandering albatross is known to spend a year in the nest before they become fledgling.

Smaller birds need to reach the fledgling stage a lot quicker so they can be able to fend for themselves. A good example of this is hummingbirds, which fledge from their nests in about 15 days.

Albatross Parents and their Chick

The lifespan of a hummingbird is about six years. At the same time, the albatrosses have only just started leaving their nests. This is a good example of the longevity difference between the larger and smaller birds.

The metabolic rate will influence the bird’s life. The smaller the bird, the quicker the metabolic rate. The bigger, the slower the metabolic rate. It stands to reason that the size of the species influences its longevity.

Fledglings or juveniles

Fledglings are almost fully developed birds that still need their parents to help feed them, but they can escape their nests. They have developed feathers but have yet to develop the full adult plumage. Their feet are also stronger, so they can grip a branch.

Small birds, like sparrows, can take about three months to reach maturity, but some bigger eagles take a few years, for example Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)


This stage in a bird’s life is mostly directed at the larger birds, especially the sea birds like the albatross. This is because they can only start breeding or reach their sexual maturity after five years. Many of the smaller bird species have lived their full lives by now.

Bald Eagle Feeding Chick in Nest

Average lifespans

With all the studies carried out by scientific entities and dedicated bird groups, all trained and licensed ringers, we are lucky to have information to examine the average life of different bird species. Here are just a few.

SpeciesAverage life spans
Albatrosses, penguins, and other seabirds30-50 years
Eagles  20–30 years
Hawks8–20 years
Songbirds8–12 years
Hummingbirds6–8 years
Warblers3– 6 years

Looking at these, it is obvious that the larger birds live a little longer than the smaller birds. This phenomenon is worth investigating.

Large birds’ lifespans

Birds in captivity with years of care live longer than their counterparts. We have a few claims to the longevity of captive birds for interest’s sake.

  • Cocky-Bennett – Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (Cacatua galerita) lived in Australia and was over 100 years old.
  • Fred – Sulphur-crested Cockatoo also lived in Australia and was over 100 years old.
  • Charlie – Blue and Yellow Macaw (Ara ararauna) lived in England and was 114 years old in 2014.
Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo Sitting on the Branch

I must add that these are claimed years and written as such, but the oldest recorded bird in the world, measured through bands, is the famous “Wisdom”. She is a Laysan Albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis).

She was first ringed in 1956 and was last seen in November 2022. (It has been estimated that she was about 5 when first ringed, but if we look at an accurately recorded lifespan, that would be 66 years old (possibly 71). The other fact, as we know it, is that she is a wild bird. Wisdom has laid 40 eggs and raised 33 chicks.

One of the oldest recorded mammals is a tortoise called Jonathan. He was 189 years old. Tortoises have a long lifespan, but what makes them live so long, and how can we tie this in with our longest-living bird, the Laysan Albatross?

Tortoises have a few good reasons for a high longevity rate.

  • Genetic makeup – evolved to withstand certain hostile conditions.
  • Slow metabolism – conserves energy and does not require feeding all the time
  • DNA repair system – helps prevent accumulation of genetic damage.
  • High levels of antioxidants in their system
  • Slow growth rate
  • Efficient immune system
Laysan Albatross in Flight

Albatrosses are the longest-living birds, and their reasons are.

  • Genetic makeup – they have adapted to their oceanic environment so well that they are known to spend the first six years of life without touching land.
  • Slow metabolism – they have developed a method of flying thousands of miles at high speed without flapping their wings. So, they spend most of their lives over the sea and only come to land to reproduce.
  • High levels of antioxidants in their system – copes with DNA damage – eating jellyfish and squid, which have many antioxidants.
  • Slow growth rate – 1 Year spent as a hatchling, reach sexual maturity at five years, only start looking for mates within eight years. They also have antibodies that will neutralise toxins, especially if they get stung by the Portuguese man of war.

Now we get a better idea as to why some of the bigger birds outlive the smaller birds. These differences will be genetic makeup, slow metabolism, and slow growth rate. This can also be seen from their relative incubation times.

Albatross Courtship


When we look at birds, we have no idea how old they are. If we hold them in our hands, quite possibly by feeling the feathers, to an expert, we might get an idea of how young or old they are, but against what measurement?

We have agreed that the bigger the birds, the longer they live. But even then, they, too, have a lot of hurdles and challenges to face, such as climate change, diseases, human intervention, pollution, pesticides, and hunting, to fulfil their lifespan. This is especially true of birds in the wild.

Get out into nature and enjoy all the birds, big and small. See for yourself if you can determine the specific age ranges of different species of birds. But always respect them and their habitats. Happy birding.

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