We’ve been talking a lot about life span here on ScienceBlogs, and on Retrospectacle. So, thought for this week’s Grey Matters I’d talk a bit about the life span of African Grey parrots. In a nutshell, they live a long time–about 60-80 years. Although, there have been a few accounts of captive Greys living past 100 years of age! This fact is often a huge surprise to people looking into buying a Grey parrot, and should be weighed very heavily before making the jump to buy. Seriously, your getting a life partner more than a pet. Will you still want your bird when you are 70? (I know I will!) Greys in the wild usually don’t live quite as long, due to environmental pressures, predation, etc.
Other birds and even other species of parrots don’t live near as long as African Greys. Why might this be? According to a study published in the journal Aging in 1999, the rate of mitochondial oxygen radical generation is lower in long-lived birds than in short-lived birds and mammals. We’ve all heard about the destructive capability of so-called “free-radicals” as reported in the news, and it seems that African Greys may have less free radical production than short-lived birds, and less oxidative damage. Whether this is directly responsible for their life span is unknown, but its an interesting hypothesis.