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Why Birds Are Anti-Aging Superstars

Audubon: “Wisdom the Laysan Albatross celebrated a big birthday last year, turning a whopping 70 years old. Flying for months at a time over the open sea, albatrosses’ bodies are built to last, and as far as we know, she is the oldest wild bird in the world. However, the reason for Wisdom’s extraordinarily long life—even living longer than the biologist who first banded her—remains a mystery. While most birds don’t reach their eighth decade like Wisdom, they have earned a reputation for longevity that has puzzled scientists for centuries. In 1623, English philosopher and scientist Francis Bacon observed that birds outlive small mammals. Now we know that birds, on average, live two-to-three times longer than mammals of the same size. Steven Austad, who studies the biology of aging at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, likes to compare mice that rarely survive more than a year outside of a lab with wild House Sparrows that can, at the highest end, live until 20…The best theories to explain birds’ longevity point to the power of flight as the major driver of avian biology. Annual migrations, sometimes for thousands of miles, require biological tricks for remembering geographic locations, maintaining strong muscles, and keeping their eyes and ears working well. Flight also allows birds to more easily evade predators and find shelter. “They’ve had to be so highly engineered to succeed at flight,” Austad says. “That kind of physiological integrity has allowed them to stay healthy much longer than another animal.”

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