Rosemary Low tells us how long Parrots really live.
Many birdkeepers do not keep records pertaining to their birds.
Most birdkeepers have birds which are not ringed and without history.
Many birdkeepers exaggerate or over-estimate the age of their birds.
Many national newspapers and others have run stories about Parrots and the great ages they have reputedly reached.
Why do newspapers publish such stories without comment or question or try to verify the statement? Answer: because most of them know nothing about Parrots and believe what they are told, even although there is no evidence. Typical of this is the item about a Cockatoo that appeared recently (2012) in an Australian newspaper. The previous owner told the current owner that the Cockatoo is now 90 years old. He has lived at the Monarch Hotel in New South Wales for forty years. Proven age: Forty-one plus.
Example of Misinformation
In 2004 almost every national newspaper in the UK carried a story about a Macaw acquired by Winston Churchill in 1937, his companion until the great man died in 1965. Reputedly, the Macaw was still alive, having acquired the great age of 104! The photographs accompanying the story showed a feather-plucked Blue and Yellow Macaw whose owner claimed it was Churchill’s bird, thereby creating a lot of publicity for his business! The Daily Mirror obligingly published a large photograph (without comment regarding species) of Churchill with his bird which showed quite clearly that his companion was a Scarlet Macaw!
No Firm Evidence of a Parrot Living Beyond 70.
In the USA well-known avian veterinarian Susan Clubb studied degenerative changes in Macaws over the age of 40 years. She was able to do this because the Macaws at Parrot Jungle in Florida had been identified and recorded since the park opened. She found that most Macaws of known age die in their late forties or up to mid-fifties. However, by the age of 35 to 40 years most had impaired eyesight due to cataracts. Most of those which survived until 50 years were blind.
By 40 years muscle wasting and weight loss were generally evident. By 45 years many of the Macaws showed signs of musculoskeletal degeneration, with twisted legs or toes and a stooping posture.
In aged birds the facial skin alters with cysts, wrinkling, spots of pigment and wart-like blemishes — in other words similar changes to those seen in humans.
Other Parrots do not have bare facial areas so ageing is not so easy to detect but in most aged Parrots — again, as in humans — certain conditions occur, especially arthritis, strokes and cataracts. A really old bird can normally be detected by its general appearance, especially that of the feet.
Most people who claim to have old Parrots base the age on what they were told by the previous owner. This is not evidence! In December 2010, a friend and life-long aviculturist, Bernard Sayers, told me that his much-loved African Grey Parrot had died in June.
He wrote to me: “We knew her exact age because she was bought as an unweaned baby in Accra market in 1965. She has shown signs of age in the past few years and this makes me doubt the ages claimed for some Parrots. I could believe that Grey Parrots occasionally reach 50 or maybe a little more, but I believe this to be about the limit.” So his Grey was 45 years old — proven.
In June 2004 a lady telephoned me about her Blue-fronted Amazon. Her mother bought it in Liverpool in 1957. At that time a major importer of Parrots advertised from Liverpool, where Parrots came into the docks on the boats.
The caller still had this Amazon, then at least 47 years old. This age is not too unusual but the fact that she had known the bird since she was a child verified its age. (When writing this story I tried to contact her but the telephone number was no longer current.)
I have kept record cards for my own Parrots since the 1960s. My much loved companion Yellow-crowned Amazon died after she had been with me for exactly 39½ years. She was an adult when acquired and at the time of her death had suffered for some years from arthritis in her feet and wings (unable to fly). She would have been at least in her mid-forties and died from a stroke.
Currently (April 2012) my oldest bird is a Yellow-streaked Lory acquired in December 1975 as a wild-caught adult, thus he has been with me for more than 36 years. He too is crippled with arthritis. After 34 years as a breeding bird in an aviary, he now resides in my house and has become as tame as any hand-reared youngster!
Among my longest-lived lories were a breeding pair of Duivenbode’s (Chalcopsitta duivenbodei), acquired as newly imported birds which were less than two years old. The female died 34 years later and the male after 29 years. Among my small lorikeets (Budgerigar sized), with me all their lives, several Iris (Trichoglossus iris) have reached the age of 21 and one female died at 22. A male wild-caught Musschenbroek’s Lorikeet (Neopsittacus musschenbroekii), imported from New Guinea, was with me for 23 years. After his female died I gave him to a friend with a female and believe that he lived for another year.
I do believe that Cockatoos can live longer than other Parrots, with Macaws a close second. Les Rance, secretary of the UK Parrot Society, has kept a Galah for forty years.
The oldest documented Cockatoo of which I am aware was the Moluccan called “King Tut” who arrived at San Diego Zoo in California in 1925. He was an adult. He died after 66 years in the zoo. It was not possible to confuse him with any other of his species. He could whistle, sing and dance, mimic cats and chickens and speak a few words. During his time he also worked in cinema and theatre: he was famous!
Another famous zoo Cockatoo was the Sulphur-crested from Australia which resided at London Zoo from 1925 until 1982. The family who presented him to the zoo claimed they had kept him since “the beginning of the century”. Verified age: 58 years.
The very unusual Greater Vasa Parrot (Coracopsis vasa) from Madagascar was one of the first Parrots exhibited at London Zoo, which opened in 1828.
In 1830 the Vasa was presented to the zoo. Amazingly, it lived for 52 years!
A Danish friend, Povl Jorgensen, bought a female Vasa in 1986. In April 2012 she was incubating five eggs — at the age of 26 plus. But she has a long way to go to catch up with the zoo bird! The reason why zoo birds hold longevity records is partly because few people keep Parrots long enough. Sadly, most Parrots have many homes during their lifetimes because they are not considered as life-time commitments.
In my opinion the potential ages which can be reached by captive Parrots are as follows:
Long-tailed Parrots and Cockatiels: 30 years
Medium-sized Parrots (Greys and Amazons) 50-55 years
Large Cockatoos: 60-66
Lorikeets: small 23; Rainbow size: 30
Lories: about 35 years.