One of the perks of having a macaw as a pet is its impressive lifespan; indeed, your pet bird could reach 50 years of age with proper care. However, this species, the largest of all parrots, can reach an even more impressive age in the wild, up to 60 years, while some would have lived 80 years. It’s a long period of wandering in the lush tropical rainforest of the Amazon!
But what is it that makes these birds so tough that they can live so many years? What is the difference between those who live in the wild and those who are in captivity? And how can you ensure that you enjoy many years of companionship with your brightly colored bird? Keep reading to find out!
Why Do Macaws Live for So Long?
Macaws are the king-sized members of the parrot family. There are different species of parrots, with different average life expectancies, in some cases going beyond 100 years. Parrots, therefore, live longer than most mammals – dogs, cats, rabbits, even elephants – but less long than jellyfish, whales, or certain turtles.
The genetic differences between them can explain the variations in average longevity from one species to another. For example, if parrots live long, it is because the genes of parrots are favorable to such a long lifespan. Thus, particular physiological adaptations, for instance, a better DNA repair mechanism or better disease resistance, could allow these birds to achieve exceptional longevity. However, the precise mechanisms that make a macaw live on average much longer than a mouse, for example, remain largely unknown for the time being.
Lower Metabolism? Not So Fast
Another interesting fact is that, for mammals, the largest species live the longest (the bowhead whale holds the record for the longest-lived mammal; until now, the age of the oldest known specimen has been estimated at 211 years). Scientists explain this phenomenon by the following hypothesis: large species have a lower basal metabolism (heart rate and energy expenditure), which would give them a unique advantage in terms of their lifespan.
It’s a Mystery!
But in the case of birds, it’s quite the opposite! Indeed, birds have a HIGHER basal metabolic rate and higher body temperature than mammals. Thus, if we accepted the hypothesis that would explain why large mammals live longer, macaws and other parrots should theoretically live LESS long than a large dog, for example. This is why some scientists believe that birds are endowed with particular physiological and genetic adaptations that protect them from rapid aging. More research is needed to unravel this fascinating mystery!
Are Macaws the Longest-Living Birds?
As impressive as their lifespan is, macaws are not the species that hold the longevity record: cockatoos, one of 20 species of birds that belong to the parrot subfamily Cacatuinae, typically have a life expectancy of 60 years, but some have lived in captivity for over a century. So, for example, Fred, a cockatoo from Bonorong Nature Reserve in Tasmania, would now be 104 years old.
Another cockatoo, known as “Cocky Bennett“, is said to have lived to the age of 120 before dying out in 1916.
But according to the Guinness Book of Records, it’s only Cookie, the Major Mitchell’s cockatoo, who was officially recorded as the oldest pet bird to have lived to date. He lived to the age of 83 at the Brookfield Zoo, near Chicago, and died in 2016.
Note: Since it is not so easy to establish the actual age of birds, let alone in their wild habitat, it is quite possible that birds have lived even longer than we think.
Which Animal Lives the Longest?
Many of the oldest creatures on the planet live underwater, including corals. For example, researchers at Penn State University in 2016 found that specific genotypes of Acropora palmata (elkhorn coral) in Florida and the Caribbean are over 5,000 years old.
Why Do Wild Macaws Live Longer Than Pet Macaws?
Macaws in the wild tend to live longer than their domesticated counterparts, although they are likely to encounter more predators and experience more difficult living conditions. So, why do macaws seem to struggle more when kept in captivity?
Well, part of the blame could be due to the improper care of their owners.
Indeed, the lifespan of pet macaws and other parrot species is influenced by their diet and living conditions. Unfortunately, most domesticated macaws are fed a diet high in fat and low in nutrients; this could lead to these diseases:
Most pet birds are also kept in small cages, which may prevent them from getting enough exercise. Additionally, pet birds can be exposed to toxins, such as smoke, cleaning sprays, or other chemicals, making them susceptible to respiratory infections.
Also, unlike wild birds, pet birds are often kept in cages inside the house, which prevents them from receiving the direct ultraviolet (UV) rays needed to make vitamin D. So, they can’t absorb calcium well from their food. Therefore, this makes their bones more fragile and susceptible to fractures.
The combination of improper diet, exposure to toxic substances, lack of light, as well as attacks from other pets tend to shorten the lifespan of captive macaws compared to that of their wild counterparts.
How to Help Your Macaw Live Longer
What Are the Disadvantages of a Long Lifespan for Pet Macaws?
The main downside is that your pet bird will likely outlive you (if you adopted one at a later age). This is why adopting such a bird is an important decision because depending on your age and lifestyle, you will probably have to think about a responsible relative or friend who can take care of your bird if, for some reason, you can’t, anymore.
Sadly, there are still too many macaws, and other large parrots abandoned every year in shelters due to the inability of their former owner to care for them or because their long lifespan has become a burden on them.
Macaws make amazing companion birds as long as you can meet their needs adequately. One of the best things about them is that they can live between 30 and 50 years in captivity, which gives you a great opportunity to develop a lasting relationship with your magnificent feathered companion. But remember that the long lifespan of macaws can also lead to long-term suffering if you don’t take care of them properly.
Featured Image Credit: Erika Kirkpatrick, Shutterstock