As a bird watcher, you enjoy birds coming to your yard every day. However, you’ll have noticed that it is pretty much impossible to tell how old a bird is. It’s probably left you wondering just how long do birds live?
The average life expectancy of a wild bird is 2-20 years old. There are some wild birds that have survived up to 70 years old. Most wild birds will die before they reach adulthood. There are several factors that determine the longevity of a wild bird, including size, species, and general health.
If you’ve become attached to a few birds that visit your yard regularly you more than likely want to know how long they will survive. This will help you to understand their visiting behavior and if there is anything you can do to help them live longer.
This guide will take you through everything you need to know about a wild bird’s lifespan. You’ll learn what to expect from each species and also how you can help them.
Sound good? Then let’s get started.
How long do birds live in the wild?
The age a wild bird can get to will vary for each species of bird. It’s important to know that just because a bird can live for 60 plus years it doesn’t mean that it will live to that age.
Think of it like this: The oldest known human lived until 122 years old, but the average life of a human is 79 years old. We know most humans won’t live over 100, but very few might. Bird age is no different. You’ll have your averages but you’ll have your outliers too.
The reality is that most wild birds will die as chicks or juveniles. Once a bird reaches adulthood they have a much better chance of living longer.
Those birds that make it to this stage of life will then have to be resilient against lots of different life factors to survive. Let’s look at each factor that will affect the age any wild bird will survive too.
Factors affecting bird lifespan
The size of a bird has a huge factor to play in how long it can live. As a general rule in animal biology, small animals have a shorter lifespan than large animals. It’s not really to do with the size but more to do with their metabolism.
Smaller animals have faster metabolism which age faster. Larger animals have slower metabolisms that age slower. The same happens with birds. A small wren will generally live for around 2 years, whereas a larger woodpecker will live for around 4 years.
The size of a bird will be determined by the general characteristics of its species.
Wild birds are prone to disease. Common infectious diseases will kill off a large number of birds each year. That’s because unlike us, a wild bird can’t go to a doctor and get treated.
Common bird disease includes:
- Avian pox
Some bird species can be severely affected by new strains of a disease, parasites, or a virus. This can affect the species numbers and even result in them becoming endangered.
Older and juvenile birds are much more likely to die from a serious bout of disease. Flock birds can spread disease quickly due to their closeness. However, a good food source will likely be the cause of passing on many diseases between species.
Injury results in millions of deaths each year for wild birds. The most common reason is collisions with manmade structures such as windows, cars, wind turbines, planes, and power lines.
Often injury will occur for younger chicks who are attempting to fly the nest. This is due to their immaturity causing disorientation.
Wild birds will have to contend with natural predators in the food chain. Some species of bird are more vulnerable to predators than others. For example, smaller songbirds will be more likely to be caught by predators than larger birds.
Yet the larger bird species are not safe. Human hunting habits are a big source of risk for birds too. Even if a human is not hunting, they may be trying to capture birds for the pet trade.
The area where a bird lives can have a huge impact on its lifespan. Birds that live in urban areas usually die a lot quicker than birds living in rural areas.
That’s usually due to human interference. This includes the risk of collisions, cat predation, reduced habitat, noise stress, and light pollution.
Birds that live on the ground or in nests are much more likely to have a short live span than those that live high up in tree canopies. This is due to the risk of predation from animals or birds of prey.
For example, turkeys are larger than a lot of birds, but they don’t have a great life span. That’s due to the fact they are a great target for animal predators or hunting humans.
6. Environmental threats
As our environment changes there has been an impact on bird species all around the world. Climate change has had a huge impact on the availability of food for birds. Often insects are hatching too early and leaving chicks without a rich food source.
Other environmental threats to birds include the impact of severe weather. That includes fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, and storms. These can directly kill birds but also destroy their habitat and food sources.
7. Clutch size
Generally, birds who lay few eggs tend to live longer than a bird who lays lots of eggs. It’s a bit like that old saying ‘live fast, die young’.
The bird species that lay lots of eggs tend to mature quicker than other species, but they’ll also die quicker. Laying more eggs helps the species to survive when their mortality rate is higher.
For example, a black-capped chickadee has clutch sizes of around 8-13 eggs. Whereas an eagle may only lay around 1-3 eggs.
Estimating a wild birds age
Trying to guess an adult bird age can be almost impossible. That’s because birds don’t age like other animals.
Birds don’t change the color of their feathers, get old age diseases, or change in size.
And because birds don’t have any physical tell-tale signs of their age it makes it very hard to figure out how old birds are.
Most information we know about the age of wild birds is done through banding. That’s when a wild bird is captured and a small identity band placed on their leg. These bands can be recorded over time to give us data about a bird’s age.
The problem is that banding data is very limited and doesn’t give us a full picture of bird age. For now, all we can go by is the limited data we have and averages.
How Long Do Small birds Live In the wild?
The average life span for small birds in the wild is around 2-3 years, although some species can live up to around 15 years. On average smaller birds tend to live short lifespans than larger bird species.
These are the types of smaller birds you will find visiting your yard, including various smaller songbirds.
Although lack of data makes it difficult to determine exact age ranges these are some typical figures for common small birds.
|Species||Average Life Span||Oldest Recorded In wild|
|Hummingbird||3 – 5 years||12 years|
|Wrens||2 years||7 years|
|Blue Jay||7 years||17 years|
|Cardinal||3 years||15 years|
|American Robin||2 years||14 years|
|Starling||2-3 years||15 years|
|Song Thrush||3 years||10 years|
|Chickadee||2-3 years||11 years|
|Finch||4 years||11 years|
|Oriole||6-8 years||17 years|
|Bluebird||6 years||10 years|
|Sparrow||3 years||15 years|
|Warbler||2 years||11 years|
|Nuthatch||2-3 years||10 years|
|Junco||3 years||11 years|
How Long Do medium birds Live In the wild?
The average lifespan for medium-sized bird species in the wild is 5-8 years, with some species living even longer. Medium size birds are often the more common aggressive birds you’ll see in your yard.
As with small birds, exact age ranges for medium-sized bird species are hard to determine. But, there are general lifespan guidelines for each species.
|Species||Average Life Span||Oldest Recorded In wild|
|Mourning Dove||2 years||30 years|
|Crow||7-8 years||30 years|
|Magpie||3 years||21 years|
|Mockingbird||6- 8 years||20 years|
|Woodpecker||4 years||12 years|
|Raven||10-15 years||22 years|
|Blackbird||3 years||20 years|
How long do large birds live In the wild?
The average lifespan for large bird species in the wild is 10-20 years with some living even longer. Most large bird species are not ones you’ll see in your backyard but more so on a hike or near water.
Larger bird species tend to be birds of prey, water, or island-dwelling birds. These types of birds can live longer due to reduced predators and better protection from manmade dangers.
As with the other birds, the data is based on limited numbers but these are current averages for common species.
|Species||Average Life Span||Oldest Recorded In Wild|
|Condor||50 years||50 years|
|Owl||4 years||15 years|
|Hawk||20 years||30 years|
|Vulture||10 years||16 years|
|Osprey||8 years||32 years|
|Swan||12 years||28 years|
|Eagle||14-20 years||47 years|
|Pelican||15-25 years||48 years|
|Albatross||20 years||70 years|
How to help Wild birds live longer
Back yard birds don’t have a huge life span mainly due to the human influences we discussed above. The good news is that you can try and minimize these as much as possible to help these birds to survive a little bit longer.
Let’s look a 5 ways you can help your backyard birds to live longer.
1. Protect from predators
You won’t be able to stop birds from being the prey of other birds or wild animals. Yet, the biggest threat to bird species all over the USA is cats. Domesticated cats kill billions of birds every year in the USA.
The easiest way to stop this from happening is to only have cats that stay indoors. Of course, that’s not possible for everyone. In that case, you want to use a collar (like this one) that will alert birds to the presence of a cat and likely save their life.
2. Clean your feeders
You now know that disease is another big threat to birds. Most bird diseases are contracted at feeding spots such as bird feeders. Birds will pass the disease around through close contact or through their poop.
To slow down any spread of disease get into the habit of regularly cleaning your bird feeder. This will help to keep your feeders safe and disease-free.
If you have seen a diseased bird or dead bird at your feeder, then take it down. Clean it thoroughly and can keep it down for a few weeks to prevent spread to the other birds in the area.
3. Don’t use pesticide
If you have a lovely garden full of plants and flowers you’ll want to keep it looking that way. Insects can be a nuisance and kill off all your beautiful foliage.
But don’t use insecticides to kill off the insects. That’s because birds will eat those insects and likely be poisoned by any chemicals they have on or inside them.
Insecticides are really harmful to bird populations. It’s best to try more natural methods to get rid of bugs. Encouraging more birds to your yard in the first place is a great eco-friendly way to tackle insect problems.
4. Prevent collisions
Birdwatching in your yard is great fun but can be very risky for birds. Especially if you have windows near your feeders.
Birds can see clear glass and will often think a landscape reflection is what’s ahead of them. This most likely leads to birds flying into your windows. Although the birds may not appear hurt, they will most likely die from internal injuries.
Using window stickers on any large windows near your bird feeders is a great way to prevent window collisions. These window stickers are the ones I’d highly recommend to prevent collisions.
5. Have Winter provisions
A lot of effort is made to feed birds in the summer when birds are looking for a good food source for their young. By the time the winter comes you may take down your bird feeders.
The problem is that feeders are needed by birds much more in the winter than in the summer. Food sources are scarce in winter. That means birds can often starve or freeze to death due to a lack of energy.
Providing a water source for birds is also a lifeline for them to survive a harsh winter. Although snow and ice are all around it’s not accessible for the birds to drink.
Can birds live over 100 years old?
Birds can live over 100 years old, but, these birds are likely to live in captivity rather than in the wild. Birds in captivity survive longer as they do not face the same biological and ecological threats as wild birds.
The oldest captive bird lived to 120. The oldest bird currently living is thought to be 114. Yet, these claims can’t be verified as it was unknown when these birds hatched.
The oldest known bird with documented proof of age was Cookie the cockatoo who died at age 83.
You’ll see that there is a variety in how long a bird species can live. That can vary hugely even between the species. Due to lack of data and the biological inability to age birds, we mostly have to work with estimates.
Those huge differences are all down to the size of a bird, where it lives and the impact the environment has on the bird’s ability to survive. Humans have a huge impact on bird death rates, but you can do your bit to help reduce this for each bird in your area.