How Long Do Owls Live



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Owls are fascinating creatures that captivate our imagination with their silent flight and piercing gaze. Have you ever wondered how long these enchanting birds live? From majestic Great Horned Owls to the petite Burrowing Owls, the lifespan of these nocturnal hunters varies greatly depending on various factors. In this article, we will explore the different factors that contribute to the lifespan of owls and provide some insight into how long these mysterious creatures live in the wild. Prepare to embark on a journey to unravel the secrets of owl longevity!

Common Owl Species

Owls are fascinating creatures that can be found in various parts of the world. Let’s explore some of the most common owl species and learn more about their unique characteristics and habitats.

Barn Owls

Barn owls, known for their unique heart-shaped face, are found in many regions across the globe including Europe, North America, and Australia. These owls are known for their exceptional hunting skills and are often found in agricultural areas where they can find an abundance of prey, such as mice and rats. Barn owls have a distinct screeching sound that can often be heard during their nocturnal activities.

Snowy Owls

Snowy owls are the majestic creatures that capture our imagination with their snowy white feathers. These owls inhabit the Arctic regions of North America and Eurasia, adapting to the harsh conditions by having thick plumage that keeps them warm. Unlike many other owl species, snowy owls are diurnal, meaning they are active during both day and night. They primarily feed on lemmings, but their diet can also include birds and small mammals.

Great Horned Owls

One of the most widespread owl species in North and South America is the great horned owl. These owls are known for their distinctive “hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo” call, often associated with spooky nights. Great horned owls have large, curved beaks and prominent “ear” tufts on their heads, which are not actually ears. These tufts play a role in their communication and camouflage. Their diet consists of a wide variety of prey, including rabbits, rodents, birds, and even skunks.

Long-Eared Owls

Long-eared owls can be found across Europe, Asia, and North America. As their name suggests, they have long ear tufts that are positioned closer to the middle of their heads rather than on the sides. These tufts are used for their communication and expression. Long-eared owls have a preference for woodland habitats and feed mainly on small mammals such as voles and mice. They are known for their exceptional camouflage skills, blending in seamlessly with their surroundings.

Short-Eared Owls

Short-eared owls are found in various regions worldwide, including North and South America, Europe, and Asia. These owls get their name from their short ear tufts, which are often not visible. Unlike many other owl species, short-eared owls are active during both day and night, making them easier to spot. They prefer open habitats such as grasslands and marshes, where they hunt small rodents like mice and voles. Short-eared owls are known for their distinctive flight pattern, with slow, moth-like wingbeats.

Factors Affecting Owl Lifespan

The lifespan of owls can vary significantly depending on several key factors. Understanding these factors can give us insights into the life expectancy of different owl species and their overall well-being.


Each owl species has its own unique lifespan range. Some species can live for over 25 years, while others have a much shorter lifespan. Factors such as size, habitat, and adaptation to their environment can influence the lifespan of different owl species.


The habitat in which owls live plays a crucial role in their lifespan. Owls that have access to suitable nesting sites and abundant food sources are likely to have a higher chance of survival and a longer lifespan. Human activities such as deforestation and urbanization can negatively impact owl habitats, reducing their lifespan due to the loss of suitable nesting and hunting grounds.

Food Availability

The availability of food can greatly impact an owl’s lifespan. Owls rely on a specific diet, primarily consisting of small mammals, birds, and insects. If their prey populations decline or become scarce due to factors like habitat destruction or climate change, owls may struggle to find enough food to survive, potentially leading to a shorter lifespan.


Genetics play a significant role in the lifespan of owls, just as they do in many other living organisms. Some genetic factors may make certain owl species more prone to diseases or other health conditions that can shorten their lifespan. On the other hand, some genetic traits may contribute to longer lifespans in owls.


Like many other creatures, owls face the constant threat of predation. Predators such as larger owls, eagles, and even mammals can pose a serious risk to their survival. Owls that live in areas with a high predation risk may have shorter lifespans due to the increased likelihood of being preyed upon.

Average Lifespan of Owls

While it is difficult to determine the exact lifespan of an individual owl, studies have provided insights into the average lifespans of various owl species. Let’s take a closer look at the average lifespans of some common owl species.

Barn Owls

Barn owls have an average lifespan of about 4-5 years in the wild. However, barn owls in captivity can live up to 20 years or even longer. Factors such as reduced predation risk and consistent food supply contribute to longer lifespans in captive barn owls.

Snowy Owls

Snowy owls have an average lifespan of around 9-10 years in the wild. Some individuals have been known to live up to 20 years or more. The harsh Arctic environment and limited food availability during certain times of the year can impact their overall lifespan.

Great Horned Owls

Great horned owls have an average lifespan of around 13-15 years in the wild. In captivity, these owls can live up to 30 years or more. The ability to adapt to a wide range of habitats and a diverse diet contributes to their relatively longer lifespan.

Long-Eared Owls

Long-eared owls have an average lifespan of about 4-5 years in the wild. However, individuals in captivity can live up to 15 years or more. Their dependency on specific nesting habitats, combined with predation pressure, can impact their overall lifespans in the wild.

Short-Eared Owls

Short-eared owls have an average lifespan of around 4-5 years in the wild. The availability of suitable open habitats and sufficient prey populations directly influence their lifespan. In captivity, short-eared owls can live up to 10 years or more.

Longest Living Owl Species

While most owl species have relatively short lifespans, some have been known to live significantly longer. Let’s explore some of the longest living owl species.

Great Gray Owl

The great gray owl holds the record for being one of the longest-lived owl species, with individuals that have been documented to live up to 40 years. These magnificent owls inhabit North America’s boreal forests and rely on a diet primarily consisting of small mammals such as mice and voles.

Eurasian Eagle Owl

Eurasian eagle owls have an average lifespan of around 20-25 years in the wild. However, some individuals have been known to live up to 60 years in captivity, making them one of the longest living owl species. These impressive owls are found in various parts of Europe and Asia, and their diet includes a wide range of prey, from rodents to birds.

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Northern saw-whet owls are small owls that typically have an average lifespan of 4-7 years. However, some individuals have been recorded to live up to 17 years. Despite their small size, these owls can be found across North America and feed primarily on small mammals, particularly mice and voles.

Shortest Living Owl Species

While some owl species have the potential to live remarkably long lives, others have relatively short lifespans. Let’s explore some of the shortest living owl species.

Elf Owl

Elf owls, the smallest owl species in the world, have an average lifespan of around 3-4 years in the wild. These tiny owls inhabit the southwestern parts of North America, primarily residing in desert regions. Their diet comprises insects, and they prefer nesting in the cavities of saguaro cacti.

Mexican Spotted Owl

Mexican spotted owls have an average lifespan of about 8-10 years in the wild. These medium-sized owls are found in the southwestern United States and Mexico, primarily inhabiting canyons and forests. Their diet consists of small mammals, birds, and insects. Threats such as habitat loss and competition from more aggressive owl species have contributed to their relatively shorter lifespan.

Northern Pygmy Owl

Northern pygmy owls have an average lifespan of around 3-5 years in the wild. These small owls can be found in North America’s coniferous forests and have a diverse diet that includes small birds, mammals, and insects. Their relatively shorter lifespan may be influenced by predation, as they are vulnerable to larger owls and raptors.

Comparing Owl Lifespan to Other Birds

When it comes to comparing the lifespans of owls to other birds, there are significant differences due to various factors such as size, habitat, and ecological niche.

Large Birds of Prey

In general, large birds of prey tend to have longer lifespans compared to most owl species. Eagles, hawks, and some vulture species can live for several decades. For example, bald eagles have been known to live up to 20-30 years or more in the wild. The larger body size of these birds often allows them to have a more extended lifespan compared to smaller owl species.

Small Songbirds

In contrast, small songbirds have relatively short lifespans compared to many owl species. Most small songbirds have an average lifespan of 2-5 years due to factors such as predation, harsh weather conditions during migration, and susceptibility to diseases. However, certain species can live significantly longer. For instance, the common backyard bird, the American robin, has been recorded to live up to 14 years.

Owls in Captivity

While owls primarily thrive in the wild, some individuals are kept in captivity for conservation, education, or falconry purposes. Let’s explore how captivity can impact the lifespan of owls.

Lifespan Extension

Owls in captivity generally have longer lifespans compared to their wild counterparts. Factors such as reduced predation risk, consistent food supply, veterinary care, and protection from harsh environmental conditions contribute to the extended lifespans observed in captive owls. For example, barn owls that live in captivity can reach ages exceeding 20 years, more than quadruple the average lifespan in the wild.

Specific Species

Certain owl species have thrived in captivity and have achieved exceptional lifespans. For instance, the Eurasian eagle owl, which can live up to 60 years in captivity, benefits from the protection and expert care provided by zoos and wildlife rehabilitation centers. These facilities ensure that the owls’ physical and psychological needs are met, resulting in longer, healthier lives.

Owl Juvenile Mortality

The survival rates of owl juveniles play a crucial role in determining the overall population dynamics and the potential lifespan of different owl species.

Survival Rates

The survival rates of owl juveniles can vary significantly among species. Factors such as nest predation, sibling competition, and food availability can influence the chances of survival for young owls. Some owl species, like the barn owl, have relatively high juvenile survival rates, which contribute to their stable populations. On the other hand, species with lower juvenile survival rates may experience more significant population fluctuations.

Parental Care Impact

The parental care provided to owl juveniles has a substantial impact on their survival rates. Most owl species exhibit a high level of parental care, with both parents actively involved in raising their young. The provision of sufficient food, protection from predators, and teaching essential hunting skills are critical for the successful development and survival of owl juveniles.

Record-Breaking Owl Lifespans

While the average lifespan of owls provides valuable insights, some exceptional individuals have far exceeded these expectations.

Individuals in the Wild

In the wild, there have been a few documented cases of owls living much longer than expected. The oldest known wild barn owl lived to be 34 years old, surpassing the average lifespan by a significant margin. Similarly, some great horned owls have been recorded to live up to 28 years in the wild, almost doubling the average lifespan of their species.

Owls in Captivity

As mentioned earlier, owls in captivity tend to live longer due to the favorable conditions provided by zoos and wildlife centers. The oldest known captive owl was a great horned owl named “Bubo,” who lived to be an impressive 68 years old. Captive owls often have access to carefully managed diets, medical care, and protected environments, contributing to their attainment of record-breaking lifespans.

Owl Lifespan Research and Studies

Scientists and researchers have conducted various studies and research projects to gain a deeper understanding of owl lifespans and the factors that influence them.

Tracking Methods

One of the primary methods employed in owl lifespan research is the use of tracking devices. Transmitters and satellite tags can be attached to owls to monitor their movements, behavior, and survival rates. These tracking methods allow researchers to study owl lifespans in the wild, identify factors affecting their survival, and assess the impacts of environmental changes on their populations.

Ecological Studies

Long-term ecological studies on owl populations provide valuable information about their lifespans and population dynamics. These studies involve capturing and marking individuals, monitoring their survival rates, and collecting data on reproductive success and habitat use. The information gathered from these studies helps scientists understand the various factors influencing owl lifespans and implement conservation measures where needed.

Life Expectancy Data Sources

Life expectancy data for owls is often gathered from a combination of sources, including scientific studies, bird banding programs, and captive owl records. By analyzing these data sources collectively, researchers can identify patterns across different owl species, assess the impacts of environmental changes, and contribute to the conservation efforts aimed at protecting owl populations and their habitats.

In conclusion, owls have diverse lifespans influenced by factors such as species, habitat, food availability, genetics, and predation. While some owl species may have relatively short lifespans, others can live for several decades. The challenges faced by owls in the wild, such as habitat loss and climate change, highlight the importance of conservation efforts to protect these incredible birds and ensure their continued existence for generations to come.

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