With over 200 types of owls, there is no one answer to the question of how long do owls live. Each species will have its own life patterns depending on a range of factors, including size, habitat, and natural predators.
In general, the larger the owl, the longer the lifespan with Snowy Owls having one of the longest lifespans and smaller owls like the Barn Owl living to a much shorter age (add reference). Continue reading to learn more about owl life expectancy and the lifespan of an owl.
How long do owls live?
How long does an owl live? The answer to this question depends entirely on the type of owl. As mentioned, the lifespan of an owl can depend on a variety of factors. Two main factors that come into play with owl lifespan are the size of the species and whether or not the animal is in captivity (1).
On average, owls in the wild live around 9 to 10 years. Owls in captivity can live up to 28 years.
Owls in captivity tend to live longer since they are not exposed to the same dangers found in their natural habitats like predators, disease, or accidents (2). In captivity, these owls have an abundant food source as well as protection, both likely factors that increase their livelihood and lifespan.
Owls in the wild aren’t offered the same protection and may not survive from one year to the next. The average owl lifespan is largely dependent on the type of owl, though, and can vary greatly.
Snowy Owls, one of the largest and most majestic of all owls, are known to be among the longest-living owls. In the wild, they can live as long as 9 to 10 years, whereas, in captivity, a Snowy Owl’s lifespan can be as long as 28 years.
This is a stark contrast to the much smaller Barn Owl, who has an average lifespan of only 4 years. Like most birds, an owl’s average lifespan is largely dependent on that particular species’ size.
Owls lifespan is different between species
Like all birds, owl life expectancy varies greatly depending on the size of the species. With over 200 species, life expectancy can range from very short, as is the case with barn owls, too much longer, like in the case of a screech owl. Since owl species vary greatly in both behavior and habitat, their life expectancy can also vary greatly.
The Great Horned Owl, found only in the Americas, have potentially long lifespans. Although the mortality rate can be high in younger birds and fledglings, once they reach adulthood, Great Horned Owls have a long life expectancy with the oldest known wild bird reaching approximately 28 years old (3). In captivity, with an abundant food source and lack of predation, they can live much longer and have been known to live well into their 20’s, 30’s, and beyond.
Although barn owls have a naturally high growth rate due to the offspring they produce, very few reach the age of maturity due to predation. In captivity, these owls have been known to live as long as 20 years, whereas, in the wild, they are not expected to survive that long. The barn owl lifespan, therefore, is quite short, with most averaging approximately 4 years (4).
Like all wild animals, several factors come into play when it comes to lifespan in the wild. Natural predation, food availability, disease, and human interaction all play a role in the lifespan of birds.
Owls live longer in the capture
Animals belong in the wild, but there are many reasons they may live in captivity. Rehabilitation and research are just two reasons that owls may be in captivity. In nature, owls are at the mercy of many things, including predators, disease, injury, or starvation. These factors may all be out of their control and play an important role in the length of their life.
Owls in captivity live much longer because they have a steady food source, as well as shelter, and presumably medical care. Caregivers need to know a lot of specialized information to care for the birds in the best way possible. In captivity, owls are provided proper perching surfaces, a healthy diet, appropriate housing, as well as regular maintenance and veterinary care leading to overall better health and, thus, longevity (5).
If you were thinking these factors would lead to an owl being an excellent pet, though, you would be wrong. Not only do they require highly specialized care, but it is also illegal in many jurisdictions and their natural behaviors simply make them unsuitable for pet ownership. Owls kept in captivity for research, education, and rehabilitation services are there for a specific purpose and live in suitable facilities where their needs are taken care of.
Common reasons for the death of owls
The lifespan of birds depends largely on the threats they face as they go about their daily activities, with owls being no exception. Common threats include poison, vehicular collisions, fences, and habitat loss (6).
The screech owl lifespan, for instance, has a high mortality rate in the wild with as many as 70% not making it to mature adulthood (7). Although this number is largely due to predation, other natural factors come into play. Owls that hunt and live near roadways are at a much higher risk of injury or death from vehicular collisions either from direct hits or while feeding on roadside carrion (8).
Other common causes of death for owls include starvation and disease. When a food source is either lacking or unavailable (as in unseasonable weather), it can have dire consequences for the average lifespan of a bird (9). Similarly, disease and parasites can have devastating effects on an owl population.
Owls can also fall prey to a number of avian diseases, including West Nile Virus and Avian Tuberculosis. But by far, the biggest factor in owl deaths is human influence. Whether through the loss of habitat, or human interference, such as the use of pesticides, we are their greatest menace and threat to livelihood.
If owls have become a problem in your backyard, then read this guide.
What is the oldest owl known?
Great Horned Owls are one of the longest living owls thanks to their lack of natural predators and easy habitat adaptation. Snowy Owls also have long natural life spans but thanks to their more limited natural habitat and range, they may not live as long as the Great Horned.
In captivity, owls have been shown to have much longer lifespans thanks to the great care they receive. A captive female at the San Francisco zoo turned 50 in 2012, but that is rare.
Although not official, the title of longest living owl was held by an Ohio Barn Owl for some time (11). Barnaby passed away at 29 years old in 2017 and was the mascot for the Ohio Wildlife Center during his long life.