Unravelling the mystery of parrot longevity: Relatively large brain size

Parrots are famous for their intelligence among birds. Among them, species such as sunflower cockatoos and macaws are quite long-lived, and the lifespan in captivity can reach 80 years. Why do they live so long? A new study proves why these parrots live so long: their relatively large brain size.

Scarlet macaw (scarlet macaw, scientific name: Ara macao) and sunflower cockatoo (Sulphur-crested cockatoo) are the longest-lived species among parrots, with an average of 30 years. While large birds such as eagles can live this long, parrots are relatively small and live almost as long as primates.

Why do they live so long? A team from the Max Planck Institute in Germany recently demonstrated for the first time that parrot brain size is positively associated with longer lifespan, or that improved cognitive abilities may help parrots cope with environmental threats and thus live longer.

The researchers pointed out that more active parrots must be studied in order to obtain better data. After compiling data from more than 130,000 parrots in more than 1,000 zoos, the team found for the first time the average lifespan of 217 parrot species. The average lifespan of medium-sized fig parrots is about 2 Years, the average lifespan of the Scarlet Macaw is 30 years, and the average lifespan of the Sunflower Cockatoo is about 25 years.

Next, the team wanted to test the two hypotheses that “a relatively large brain can prolong lifespan” and “a relatively large brain takes longer to grow, so it also requires a longer lifespan”, so they collected the relative size, average size and average size of the parrot brains of various species. Data such as weight and development were computerized, and the results confirmed that a relatively large brain size could prolong parrot life.

Studies have shown that parrots with relatively large brains have higher cognitive abilities, are more problem-solving in the wild, and therefore live longer. In the future, the team intends to see if social and cultural learning in parrots also contributes to longer lifespan.

The new paper is published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

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