Main Article: Overview of Avian Geriatric Disorders with Emphasis on Psittacines – Jeannine Miesle, M.A., M. Ed. January, 2022
2 Lifespan and Longevity
The average lifespan of a bird is the life expectancy for that particular species. Longevity refers to the maximum lifespan that can be expected under ideal conditions. Many birds never reach their maximum lifespans nor even get close to reaching them. According to C. Greenacre, “The lifespan of a bird depends on its species, genetic inbreeding, size, concurrent disease, diet, and environment.” 20 Some of the more commonly seen geriatric diseases and conditions are arthritis, neurological disease, heart disease, neoplasia, obesity, atherosclerosis, chronic malnutrition, chronic aflatoxin exposure (carcinogenic mycotoxins, or mold-spore diseases), and cataracts. If these diseases had been caught earlier, many of the birds would have had longer lifespans. 44
Until recently, geriatric medicine has been a neglected area of avian medicine. Infectious diseases, inadequate diets, and poor care meant that most pet birds did not live long enough to develop geriatric conditions. However, as the knowledge base of avian medicine has increased, so have the lifespans of pet birds. S. Austed states that, “Most pet birds have the potential to live 20-80 years, depending on their size (larger birds live longer than smaller ones), diet (herbivores live longer than carnivores or omnivores), and socialization (highly social species live longer than solitary species).” 3
2.1 The Effect of Flight on Lifespans
In birds, species that are capable of flight live considerably longer than non-flying species of similar body size. “This could be because flight enables animals to escape some of the environmental dangers they encounter, such as predators or destruction or deterioration of their habitats. In addition, birds that are weak flyers are thought to age more rapidly than strongerflying species. Birds of the order Galliformes (pheasants, quail, chickens, turkeys) are weak fliers, and they appear to be exceptionally short-lived compared to strong fliers.” 2
Image 3. A 20-year-old lutino cockatiel is shown after having the jugular vein moistened with alcohol for venipuncture. At this age, even minor restraint has caused the bird to appear listless and sleepy. Geriatric birds require more gentle handling and for shorter periods of time (image courtesy Doneley, Harrison, Lightfoot; used with permission). 16
2.2 Geriatric Ages and Maximum Lifespans of Commonly Kept Companion Birds
This is a most interesting study. The following table comes from Clinical Avian Medicine, published in 2006. At that time, pet birds were not expected to live as long as their wild counterparts. Although the maximum lifespans are long, the actual average lifespan was much shorter. The Geriatric-in-Years data below was not only the period at which the birds were considered geriatric, it was also the average lifespan of each species. Very few birds reached their maximum lifespans until recently. You will also note that information is only provided for 14 species; in the case of some of the very long-lived species, there was no information available at the time, indicating that very few birds had reached geriatric status so that research data could have been obtained.
|Species||Geriatric Ages / Average
Lifespans in Years
|Budgerigar (Melopsitticus undulatus)||6-12||18|
|Cockatiels (Nymphicus hollandicus)||12-18||+32|
|Sun conure (Aratinga solstitialis)||18-25||25|
|Green-cheeked conure (Pyrrhura molinae molinae)||12-15||25|
|Peach-faced lovebird (Agapornis roseicollis)||10-15||12|
|Yellow-naped Amazon (Amazona ochrocephala auropalliata)||35-45||*|
|Blue-fronted Amazon (Amazona aestiva)||25-35||80|
|Congo grey (Psittacus erithacus)||20-25||50|
|Eclectus parrot (Eclectus roratus)||15-20||20|
|Galah (rose-breasted cockatoo) (Eolophus roseicapillus)||18-20||20|
|Umbrella cockatoo (Cacatua alba)||20?||*|
|Moluccan cockatoo (Cacatua moluccensis)||25?||*|
|Yellow-collared macaw (Ara auricollis)||22-27||*|
|Blue and gold macaw (Ara ararauna)||30-40||50|
|Green-winged macaw (Ara chloroptera)||35-45||*|
*No data available (chart courtesy L. Wilson, P. Linden, and T. Lightfoot). 61
Compare the data in the above chart with the one below. You will note that the species above for which no data was available have data listed in the table below. And the species with data in the above table show a much longer life-expectancy in the table below. This is attributed to:
- The improved education of veterinarians, both in veterinary school and on-going education of those in practice
- Education of the clients by more knowledgeable veterinarians
- Introduction of pellets as part of a balanced diet (At that time, pellets were considered the best way to improve the health of birds captured from the wild and cage birds in general. Today, that thinking has been replaced by the recommendation to feed a well-rounded, nutritious diet without pellets. See Reference Number 61 for a paper on that subject.)
- Improved husbandry, and
- Awareness of the physical, social, mental and emotional needs of these birds.
These are not the maximum life expectancies, but the average life expectancies. Maximum life expectancies would be far greater. For example, the cockatiel’s average life expectancy is only 10-15 years, but the maximum, being held now by many birds, is 32 years of age, and one bird has been anecdotally reported to be 34 years of age.
To add another perspective, Petrak and Minsky, in their 1982 text, note that they had rarely seen budgies over 10 or 11 years of age or canaries over 12 or 14 years of age; 52 however, in the above chart, the budgie’s maximum life span is 18 years.
2.3 Life Expectancy of Some Common Companion Bird Species as of 1982 (15)
|Species||Average Life Expectancy
|African Grey, Congo||50-60|
|African Grey, Timneh||25-35|
|Amazon, double yellow-headed||50-70|
|Cockatoo, bare-eyed (little corella)||30-40|
|Cockatoo, greater sulphur crested||50-70|
|Cockatoo, lesser sulphur-crested||40-60|
|Cockatoo, Major Mitchell||40-60|
|Cockatoo, medium sulphur-crested||40-60|
|Cockatoo, rose-breasted (galah)||20-40|
|Conure, Aratinga spp.||15-25|
|Conure, Pyrrhura spp.||15-25|
|Eclectus, red -sided||25-30|
|Jardine parrot (red-fronted)||20-25|
|Macaw, blue and gold||50-80|
|Quaker (monk parakeet)||20-30|
(Chart courtesy B. Doneley) (15)
This data is, by its nature, subjective, depending on the methods used in research, the number of birds monitored, how many years they are monitored, and whether the birds were from zoos, aviaries, or private homes.
2.4 Lifespan study in 2014
In a 2014 study was complete by the group then known as the International Species Information System (ISIS), and now known as Species360. This organization receives its information from zoos around the world and examines parrots’ life history records. In this study, 83,212 parrots’ life history records were examined. The following lifespan information of several species was extrapolated: (20)
|Species||Average lifespan||Approximate Longevity Record|
|Budgie||5-7 years||18 years|
|Cockatiel||5-7 years||32 years|
|Lovebird||10 years||13-34 years|
|Conure||20 years||6-60 years|
|Amazon||15-50 years||22-66 years|
|African Grey||15-40 years||48-60 years (92)|
|Cockatoo||15-30 years||27-92 years|
|Macaw||15-30 years||32-63 years|
|Lory||7 years||17-30 years|
(Chart courtesy C. Greenacre) (20)
It is most interesting that these average lifespans are generally the same in all charts; however, there is a huge discrepancy in the maximum lifespans due to the number of variables involved. (Approximate Longevity Record).
2.5. Extended Lifespan of Birds Today
Margaret Wissman, in her article, Growing Old Gracefully, discusses Icarus, a double-yellow-headed Amazon parrot which came to her for his yearly examination. “He was a large, handsome bird, with sleek, shiny feathers. He would flare his tail and ruffle up his head feathers, saying ‘hello’ and ‘here’ while pacing back and forth in his travel cage. This healthy bird represents a new class of birds being seen more and more frequently in avian practices today. Icarus is 24 years old and considered a middle-aged bird.” 64
She states that advances in avian medicine and improved husbandry practices are causing avian patients to living longer. She routinely sees cockatiels in their twenties, mid-sized birds in their teens, and macaws in their forties and fifties. Amazons can be very long-lived. In her own collection, she had, at the time of this writing, a double yellow-headed Amazon patient, Rocky, that was over 36 years old. The owners have proof of his age; he was purchased with adult head coloration in 1962. Even though budgies tend to have tumors and for the most part live only until 10 years of age, she is seeing them now living into their teens. Today, because of leg banding and more accurate breeder records than in the past, the ages of many domestically hatched pet birds can be tracked. 64
2.6 Clues for Determining the Age of a Bird
Although it may be difficult or impossible to pin down an older bird’s age, there are some clues that can be used to estimate the age of birds. Old birds may suffer from:
- Muscle wasting and weight loss.
- Limited range-of-motion; some birds may only be able to adequately move their wings and legs.
- Changes in skin appearance in birds with bare facial skin; changes include as wart-like blemishes, cysts and wrinkling.
- Depigmentation on the skin of the feet in spots.
- Diminished feather luster. 64
Some owners insist that they know the age of an imported bird, possibly due to information given at the time of purchase. If the birds were imported as babies, it is possible to determine the age, but for the most part, birds imported as adults cannot be given a numerical age since age changes cannot be predicted. 64