What Bird Lives The Longest? – Discover the world’s oldest birds

Birds don’t show age the way that we do so it is tricky to figure out exactly how old some birds are. It is a lot easier to determine the age of a bird born and kept in captivity than it is that of a wild bird. Luckily tagging wild birds has allowed us to get a better idea of what bird lives the longest.

The bird that lives the longest is the Kakapo. This New Zealand native is not only the world’s heaviest parrot at around 4kg but also its only flightless one. Nocturnal and often called the Owl Parrot, their minimum lifespan is 60 years, though it is thought they may live up to 100 years.

In this article, we are going to explore bird longevity and find out which birds normally live the longest both in captivity and in the wild. Read on to learn some amazing facts about the lifespans of the feathered ones.

Discover the amazing flightless birds of Australia in this post here on my blog.

The Longest Living Parrot

“…about as un-birdlike as it is possible for a bird to be.”

Benedict Cumberbatch

Once one of the most abundant herbivores on the New Zealand mainland, Kakapos are no longer found there. A very small population of them now exists on three tiny remote islands off the New Zealand coast.

a Kakapo bird feeding on berries
Department of Conservation, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

In 1899, explorer Charlie Douglas wrote “they could be caught in the moonlight by simply shaking the tree or bush until they tumbled to the ground. Like shaking down apples.”

a Kakapo bird sitting among leaves
Department of Conservation, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Kakapo is a truly unique parrot. They are nocturnal and have whiskers which are helpful for feeling their way in the dark. Their eyes are towards the front of their head which improves lowlight vision.

Learn the fascinating way in which birds see the world in this article here on my blog.

They also have a circle of feathers around their eyes just like Owls. These feathers are thought to act like radar dishes, capturing and directing sound toward their ears.

what bird lives the longest - a Kakapo bird
Department of Conservation, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Kakapo is a flightless bird and so spends most of its time on the ground. They are very nimble on their feet and quite fast runners. Their food source however is in the trees, so they have become quite good climbers.

Not much is really known about the lifespan of a Kakapo. Deidre Vercoe, a team member of the NZ Department of Conservation who works with Kakapo in the wild thinks their minimum lifespan is around 60 years. They may live up to 100 years but we are yet to discover proof of this.

The Most Famous Old Bird – Wisdom The Laysan Albatross

A quick search of the internet for the world’s longest-living birds will turn up a lot of information about one bird in particular – Wisdom the Laysan Albatross.

longest living bird Wisdom the Laysan Albatross with a chick
Wisdom the Laysan Albatross with her chick in 2017 – National Marine Sanctuaries, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Certainly the most famous old bird in the world, Wisdom is a banded Laysan Albatross that nests within the world’s largest albatross colony on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the North Pacific. She is now 70 years old and in February of 2021 hatched yet another chick.

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Biologists estimate that Wisdom has hatched at least 30-36 chicks in her long lifetime.

longest living bird Wisdom the Laysan Albatross with her mate
Wisdom and her mate – USFWS – Pacific Region, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Wisdom was first banded on December 10, 1956. Ornithologist Chandler Robbins banded her when he was 40 years old. He returned to Midway in 2002 he discovered that he had sighted the same bird he banded 46 years earlier!

Before Wisdom, scientists believed that Laysan Albatross only lived between 30 to 40 years. If she keeps this up, she will outdo the Kakapo!

The World’s Longest Living Bird

the world's longest living bird Cocky Bennet the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo
Cocky Bennet – image courtesy of Sutherland Shire Libraries.

Is this a photo of the world’s oldest bird? Quite possibly.

The bird in the image above is Cocky Bennet. Cocky was a Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo born in 1796. He spent the first 78 years of his life sailing the open seas with his owner Captain Ellis who worked in the South Sea Islands’ trade.

When the Captian died, Cocky was bequeathed to Mr. and Mrs. Bowden. Mr. Bowden died in 1889 and Mrs. Bowden later married Charles Bennet who became licensee of the Sea Breeze Hotel in Blakehurst, Sydney NSW.

a Sulphur-crested Cockatoo standing on grass with its crest feathers raised
A Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo with all of its feathers and a normal-sized mandible – image by Barry Callister Photography.

Cocky, who had become very talkative in his earlier years at sea soon became very popular at the Hotel. Having lost almost all of his feathers by this point, one of his frequent phrases was “one more feather and I’ll fly.”

Besides talking, what else do birds do for fun? Find out in this article.

In the image above you can see that Cocky developed an extraordinarily long upper mandible. This meant he was only able to eat mashed food. The loss of his feathers and enlargement of the upper beak are symptoms of psittacine beak and feather disease. This is a highly infectious and common disease among parrots.

A Sulphur Crested Cockatoo with psittacine beak and feather disease
A Sulphur Crested Cockatoo with psittacine beak and feather disease – S B from Sydney, Australia, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Cocky died at what was believed to be the ripe old age of 120. It is hard to determine whether he was in fact 120 or just 119 as he was taken from his nest by a farmer and his exact birth date was not known.

120 or 119, Cocky is still the oldest-living Australian parrot on record and quite possibly the oldest bird in the world that ever lived.

a graphic of an old Rooster dressed in a suit and walking with a walking stick

What Bird Lives The Shortest?

So far we have been looking at old birds but what about those that don’t live quite as long?

The bird that lives the shortest lifespan is the Goldcrest. A small European songbird around 8.5-9.5cm (3.3-3.7 in.) in length, the Goldcrest has a life expectancy of around 8 months. There are however records of one banded Goldcrest found dead in Morroco in 1989 surviving 7 years and 7 months.

a Goldcrest perched in a pine tree
Goldcrest – image by ShaftInAction from Getty Images.

The life expectancy of birds reduces with their size. Smaller birds tend to live shorter lives than larger birds. Birds in captivity also tend to live longer than wild birds. They don’t have to deal with quite as many stresses as birds in the wild and avoid predators too.


Barry Callister

Barry is a bird photographer and bird watcher with over 7 years of experience. He runs his own YouTube channel about photography and promotes his nature photography on his personal website barrycallisterphotography.com.au.

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