Birds are very good at hiding their age till almost the final few months. This article will help you identify the signs a bird is dying of old age and how you can make its last few years more comfortable.
The death of a beloved pet is always painful and heartbreaking, be it due to old age or any other cause.
However, watching out for the common signs of aging and knowing in advance that you have limited time left with your feathered friend allows you to mentally prepare for the loss.
It is very important for owners to understand how taking care of their birds when they grow old has different facets as compared to younger birds.
In this article, I will delve into understanding old age in birds, be it physical or emotional signs, the diseases to watch out for, and how to take care of your bird when it is in its golden years.
How Old Do Birds Get?
Let’s get one thing straight – the average lifespan of birds can vary significantly from one bird species to another.
In commonly domesticated species, it might be anything between 5 years and 80 years!
For example, cockatiels and parakeets (budgies) are among the most popular avian pets.
Cockatiels can live up to around 15 years, though with care and the right lifestyle, they can live much longer as well.
Parakeets and similar smaller birds have shorter lifespans of about 5-10 years.
Macaws live particularly long – it’s not uncommon for them to surpass 50 years of age.
They can even live more than 100 years, outliving many humans.
Cockatoos and amazon parrots have a similar lifespan, ranging from 20 to 60 years and 25 to 60 years, respectively.
For galah cockatoos, it’s somewhere in the middle – around 40 years.
To put it simply, it all depends on what species of birds you have as pets. There’s no generalized lifespan that works for every species. You’ll have to figure it out for your bird in particular.
The table below gives a quick overview of the average lifespan of common pet birds.
|25 to 60 years
|5 to 15 years
|10 to 30 years (depending on the species)
|10 to 15 years
|10 to 20 years (25 in some cases)
|30 to 50 years, 70 for some species
|10 to 15 years
|30 to 50 years
|20 to 60 years (70 for some species)
|African Gray Parrots
|40 to 60 years
|5 to 15 years
|5 to 10 years (sometimes close to 30 years)
|10 to 30 years
The table would have helped you understand my comment on the average avian lifespan being extremely varied better.
As you can see in the chart above, many species also display exceptions to their usual lifespans.
I should also mention that birds living in captivity usually have a longer lifespan than wild birds of the same species.
How to Tell a Bird’s Age?
So you understand by now that birds may have different ages, and therefore “old age” for every bird could mean something else.
That’s why it is important to understand how old your bird is the moment you bring it into your home.
Alas, this, right here, is the trickiest part.
With most bird species, telling the age isn’t easy once they have matured.
Birds undergo various physical and behavioral changes as they develop from younglings to adults.
What’s also true is that once they have reached adulthood, it’s almost impossible to determine the age.
If you get a pet bird after it has already matured, the only way to tell its exact age is to look for a leg ring.
Reputed breeders usually put these rings on the birds they breed, with information such as the months and year of birth etched on them.
But otherwise, birds are pretty good at looking young for most of their lives.
Thankfully, they start showing certain signs as they grow old.
So, even though you can’t figure out the exact age, it’s possible to notice when your feathered friend is aging.
What Happens to Birds When They Get Old?
So, what changes do birds undergo when they get old?
The signs include both physical and behavioral cues.
Also, as is the case with humans, birds become more prone to certain diseases when they become older.
Let’s get a deeper look.
Behavioral Signs of Aging
Behavioral changes might initially be easy to overlook, but they get more pronounced as the bird ages.
Watch out for the following behavioral cues to know when your avian chum is aging.
If you have a very active and playful bird, this would be a very noticeable change.
Just like humans, birds display a sharp drop in activity when they grow old.
Even healthy birds move around less when they age. They prefer to spend their time resting rather than playing.
Lovebirds, for instance, are very active in their prime but might remain in their nest boxes for 20 hours a day after a certain age.
A change in attitude
Aging can also cause a change in a bird’s attitude toward others.
Many birds turn cranky as they age, showing displeasure towards new people and new routines.
However, the opposite may be true too.
Birds that used to be feisty often grow more sedate and easy-going with age.
But in either case, the change in behavior should tell us that something has changed, and in most cases, it is simply an effect of aging.
Quick adaptation to new homes
Now, this one is a welcome change. Older birds tend to adjust to new environments in a much shorter period of time than younger birds.
This explains why they are rather easy to place into new homes.
While we are not sure what the reason is, I tend to believe that just like an experienced human becomes more accommodative, so do birds.
As I mentioned earlier, older birds like to rest a lot.
Naturally, this also results in increased sleep durations.
While younger birds need only 10 to 12 hours of daily sleep, an old bird might sleep for up to 17 hours a day.
Physical Signs of Aging
Now that we’re done with the behavioral indicators, let’s check out the physical signs of aging in birds.
Changing beak color
In some species of birds, the beak starts to change color as the bird ages.
Eclectus parrots, for instance, have orange beaks that turn yellow as they grow older.
The lorikeet is particularly amazing in this regard.
Its beak is initially black, but goes through several color changes, progressively turning reddish brown, red, and maroon over the bird’s lifespan.
Condition of the feathers
This is a noticeable change in the appearance of aging birds, particularly prominent in parrots. In younger birds, the feathers typically look newer and sleeker.
Older birds, on the other hand, start having ruffled feathers instead.
The plumage may also fade in color in many species.
Molting does not add as many new feathers as are depleted in each season.
Additionally, older birds often have notably fewer feathers than usual due to their growth being too slow to make up for the loss of feathers.
The appearance of the legs and nails
Aging takes a toll on a bird’s legs and nails too. More precisely speaking, the legs start darkening, and the skin over them grows flaky.
Overgrown toenails are another sign you might notice.
Low stamina and energy levels aren’t the only reasons why older birds don’t move around as much.
They also lose their mobility with age, much like humans or almost any other animal.
Hence, even if they want, older birds can’t move around a great deal.
Many old birds become incapable of flight, though it’s not always the case.
Old Age Diseases
Here’s another similarity between avian aging and human aging – diseases resulting from old age.
The following disease might indicate that your feathered friend is growing old.
Avian arthritis isn’t very different from human arthritis in terms of basic symptoms, such as joint pain and swelling.
Birds unable to understand why their joints are paining might snap at the joints angrily.
This is a major cue that your bird may have become arthritic.
Renal failure is a common ailment in aging birds.
With the kidneys failing to work at their usual capacity, the droppings become watery due to more urine content.
Increased water consumption is another noticeable symptom.
Overweight birds are particularly susceptible to diabetes in old age.
Diabetic birds drink excess amounts of water, resulting in excessive urine content in their stool.
Low blood glucose levels in birds often cause seizures, coma, and death.
You may monitor your bird’s sugar levels at home using a urine dipstick.
Chronic egg laying
This maladaptive disorder leads to excessive egg laying, either through larger clutches or more frequent laying of eggs.
The problem with chronic egg laying is that it causes the bird severe physical and metabolic stress, draining it of calcium.
Egg binding is a condition where the egg binds itself to the reproductive tract, and the bird is unable to pass it.
This is often a consequence of chronic egg-laying, due to the low calcium levels caused by the latter.
A bound egg breaking inside the tract can potentially cause an infection and even death.
Unless the egg can be massaged out, you need a vet to break it and remove all the parts safely.
Tumors may develop in pretty much any organ or system in a bird’s body.
Many bird species can also develop fatty tumors known as lipomas.
The severity of the condition and its treatment depends on whether the tumor is benign or malignant.
This is a common cause of death in aging birds, especially those who lack exercise.
This means cage-bound birds are particularly vulnerable to developing heart problems.
As birds grow old, their immunity diminishes significantly.
This renders them more susceptible to various protozoal, fungal, viral, and bacterial infections.
Thus, in addition to potentially developing different ailments related to old age, aging birds are also more likely to fall sick due to reduced immunity.
Older birds may suffer from very poor vision due to cataracts, which cause the lenses of their eyes to become opaque.
Cataracts may affect either one eye or both. If your bird suddenly has trouble seeing things, inspect its eyes for cataracts.
This is more of a side-effect of other diseases.
Sick birds often resort to feather plucking, potentially damaging their feather follicles and resulting in feather cysts.
Feather cysts may also be caused by ingrown feathers, genetic disorders, bacterial infections, etc.
You’d have to get a feather cyst removed surgically.
Signs that Your Bird is Dying
No matter how painful it might be to know that your bird is dying, it’s important to keep a lookout for the signs.
It will help you to give succor to your pet in its last days and give you the strength to carry on after.
A dying bird might show the following indications.
The bird is sitting too still
Now, there’s a noticeable difference between a bird with reduced mobility and a bird that sits too still, even when you approach it.
In case your feathered friend refuses to budge or respond much to your presence, it’s either dying or very sick (which might also be fatal).
Shaking, shivering, and falling off
Severely weakened and dying birds might shake and shiver a lot and even fall down to the bottom of the cage.
Sometimes, they might even seem to swoon or whirl before falling off.
Shivering may also be caused by the room temperature, but trying to keep the bird warm doesn’t make it stop in 15 minutes, make a vet appointment immediately.
Symptoms like rapid breathing labored breathing, wheezing, and clicking noises while breathing indicates severe problems in the respiratory tract, such as air sac mites.
Such avian respiratory infections are often fatal, so such symptoms might potentially mean your feathered friend is going to pass away.
Still, a vet may be able to save the bird if the infection is detected early enough.
While regurgitating food is quite common in birds feeding their offspring, vomiting is completely different.
Birds may also jerk and tremble while vomiting and usually get some vomit on their chest plumage.
The reason why vomiting is a sign of a dying bird is that vomiting is linked with stomach and liver diseases that often prove fatal in birds.
A lack of appetite
A sudden drop in appetite might potentially indicate that your bird is about to die. However, it may also be because the bird is very sick and doesn’t feel like eating.
Either way, you should get your pet checked by an avian vet if it refuses to eat or eats much less than usual.
If you have a small animal scale or baby scale, you may also check if the bird has lost weight.
Keep in mind that birds with lost appetite often fake eating their food to hide their illness.
They might pick pellets and seeds off the plate but drop them to the floor instead of eating.
How To Take Care of Older Birds?
Of course, you’d want to take care of your aging birds and make sure they remain as healthy and content as possible. It’s no surprise that older birds need special care, but I’ll help you figure out how to go about it.
Keep measuring its weight
Use a small scale to weigh your bird at weekly intervals and watch out for any significant weight loss or weight gain. Remember to do it on the same day of the week and at the same time of the day.
Give your pet a better diet
The bird’s diet should include a lot of calcium and minerals, especially if it’s a female bird (females need calcium for egg formation).
Reduce protein-rich food in the diet. Instead, provide elderly birds with foods with high moisture content, in controlled amounts.
Older birds need more rest
Birds should always be allowed to get enough rest, but this is especially important for the aging ones.
Vet visits should become more frequent
In case the bird seems to be suffering from chronic pain, get it checked by an avian vet immediately.
Once again, watch out for fluffy feathers – it might mean the bird is very unwell.
Lastly, do not ignore any signs of illness your pet might show.
Be it a viral infection or a respiratory problem caused by air sac mites, it must be addressed quickly by a professional.
To sum up, bird owners need to be particularly vigilant with old birds and provide them with some extra care.
Signs like lethargy, loss of feathers, excessive sleeping, and less activity are often overlooked by pet owners but might be early warning signs of trouble.
A few diseases that you also need to look out for are cataracts, eye diseases, heart failure, diabetes, and more.
Now that you know the symptoms of a bird dying from old age, that shouldn’t be too difficult.
Thank you for reading – I hope you found the article helpful.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do old-age parrots love grapes?
Yes, old-age parrots love grapes!
Grapes can provide a much-needed dose of sweetness for older birds that may feel more sluggish than younger ones.
Grapes are easy to eat and packed full of vitamins and minerals that can help keep an elderly parrot’s brain sharp and healthy, as well as provide an antioxidant boost.
They also make a tasty snack or treat, so your senior feathered friend will be sure to appreciate the occasional grape.
How do I know if my bird is dying from old age?
If your bird is dying from old age, you may notice signs such as fatigue and listlessness, changes in its physical appearance (fluffiness, dulling of feathers or eyes), and a decrease in activity or vocalizations.
Additionally, digestion problems due to an aged immune system may cause your bird to experience weight loss.
If you notice any of these signs along with other suspicious indicators, it is best to contact your avian vet for an examination as soon as possible.
What happens when birds die of old age?
For pet birds, usually, the owners organize a cremation and have a period of mourning.
When wild birds die of old age, their bodies decompose quickly in the elements.
Usually, within a few hours, they become food for other organisms like beetles and bacteria, which complete the recycling cycle.
Other birds will scavenge their remains and consume them as a food source.
As a result, the carcass of an aged bird will typically be almost completely gone in just a few days and rarely stays in view longer than that.
What do birds do when they get old?
When birds get old, they usually fly less and put more focus on conserving their energy.
Their feathers may become duller and more matted than before due to a lack of regular preening.
Old birds may eat less and roost earlier in the day.
Older birds may also move slower while hunting, flapping less often throughout the flight, and have a harder time making accurate turns.
Additionally, they may fail to migrate as far as younger birds – particularly if there is a decrease in available food sources or any physical limitation (such as age-related blindness).