A member of the Corvid family from the Corvus genus that also contains ravens and the rook, crows are incredibly hardy birds who survive even the harshest of environments through a combination of their resourcefulness and intellect. Crows can actually be found on every continent except for Antarctica. The lifespan of crows can vary considerably, so how long do crows live?
There are about 35 species of birds with ‘crow’ in their common name, and amongst these birds, life expectancies vary between just 4 to 7 years and some 22 years or more in the wild. Whilst the Carrion crow typically only lives for 4 to 7 years in the wild, the American crow can live for some 15 years and Torresian crow for upwards of 20 years. In captivity, the life expectancy of crows is considerably higher. The oldest crow in the world called Tata may have lived until 59 years of age, but we really don’t know for sure.
Whilst crows are certainly capable of living a long life, and much longer than many other similarly-sized birds, their high hatchling, nestling, fledgling, and juvenile mortality rate lowers their overall life expectancy. In other words, most crows don’t live until they’re even 1-year-old. Some data shows that as many as 89% don’t survive until they reach sexual maturity.
Read on to learn more about the lifespans of crows and why some die young, and others go on to live a long life.
American Crow in flight
The lifespan of many crows ranges between 7 to 8 years, but they can live much longer. The longest-lived crows live in warm or temperature climates with mild winters, few natural predators and ample supplies of food.
The lifespans for some common species of crows are as follows:
7 to 8 years in the wild, with some recorded to reach 15 to 30 years. The oldest American crow, called Tata, was reportedly 59 years old, which some ornithologists agree is possible.
4 to 7 years in the wild, with some recorded to reach 12 to 14 years.
Little reliable data, but life expectancies of some 20 years are thought possible in the wild.
Around 7 to 9 years, the oldest recorded Hooded crow in the wild lived until 14 years.
It seems that, bar perhaps the Torresian crow, the lifespan of crows rarely surpasses the 15 mark in the wild. 7 to 8 years is a fairer estimate across all crows. Even 7 to 8 years is a more-than-admirable lifespan amongst similarly-sized Passerine birds like the crow, but 15 years is exceptionally long-lived.
A Hooded Crow with a large nut for food
Most crows do not live to 1-year-old and die before they reach sexual maturity, which takes 2 to 4 years. A study into the survival rates of American crows found that some 89% failed to survive until they were breeding age. Just one in twenty Torresian crows survive their first year of independence.
Crows that do survive their early years can go on to live long lives of some 10 to 15 years, but 7 to 8 years is more common. Some species, such as the Carrion crow, only tend to live 4 to 7 years.
The Torresian crow (Corvus orru), also called the Australian crow or Papuan crow
That’s a different question altogether! In captivity, birds typically avoid most of the hazards that threaten their lives in their younger years, including predators, parasites and infections and disease. Crows may live double as long in captivity as they do in the wild.
American crows have frequently been recorded living longer than 25 years in captivity. Even the Carrion crow has been recorded living for 20 years or so.
Tata holds what might be the record of the longest-lived crow at 59. The crow was allegedly born in 1947 and died in 2006 at its home in the Woodstock hamlet of Bearsville. Ornithologists are sceptical but agree that crows and other corvids do have the genetic potential to live exceptionally long lives.
A Carrion crow on the ground foraging, during the winter
Most crows die as hatchlings, nestlings or fledglings. Disease, predation and starvation and the biggest killers. Some species of crows, such as the American crow, are particularly susceptible to viral infections, including the West Nile Virus that has been known to wipe out 75% of local crow populations in just one year.
Crows have few natural predators once fully grown, though various hawks, falcons, owls and eagles will still hunt them. Young crows face many more threats, including racoons, mink, foxes, wild cats and many other predatory animals and birds ranging from owls to hawks, buzzards and eagles.
An African Pied Crow, feeing a juvenile
Crows and many other corvids such as magpies are frequently observed holding ‘funerals’ for their dead. These processions are uncannily similar to the real thing, often involving synchronous movements between the attendees that seem to stand in solemn remembrance of their fallen comrades.
Some have even seen corvids bring offerings of petals and blades of grass, almost like laying flowers or wreaths. Whilst these accounts sound like hearsay - and many probably are - they are scientifically documented too.
One theory for this behaviour is that crows have a morbid fascination that leads them to inspect the body, almost like a post-mortem, which allows them to discover and learn the cause of death. Since corvids are exceptionally intelligent, they can likely infer information about what happened to the crow, whether that be an attack from a nearby predator or death from disease.
A group of crows perched high up together
Studies have found that crows remember the sight of those that have some involvement with their dead, e.g. a potential predator. Once they identify that predator in their territories again, the crows communicate with one another via a series of warning calls.
The romantic conception of crows grieving for their dead is perhaps also skewed by observations of necrophilia, particularly in the breeding season. This is thought to be hormonally motivated.
Whether or not there is a component of grief is still largely a mystery. Crows do probably have the mental faculties to experience such emotion in some way, but it’d be very difficult to find out for sure.
A male crow called Tata has the potential to be the oldest crow ever known. Born in 1947, Tata died in his home in Bearsville in 2006, which makes him 59 by the time of his death. Even though Tata’s extraordinary lifespan is not officially verified, it is certain that Tata was exceptionally old, suffering from arthritis and blind from cataracts.
His owners said that he was still a very aware and energetic bird right until his death, and would even still call to the other crows outside.
Tata was injured in a Long Island cemetery before being taken into care. He remained with his former owners until his ownership was transferred to a new owner in 2001, where he remained until his death.
There is certainly nothing in the story to suggest that Tata was not a very old bird, and from anecdotes alone, it seems that 59 is indeed possible.
Ravens can live for 60 years in captivity - and there are cases of hybridisations between ravens and crows - so perhaps Tata really did have that little extra DNA that allowed him to live the longest life of any crow.
Close up portrait of a Hooded Crow
Carrion crows are amongst the shortest-lived crows, living for just around 4 to 6 years in many situations, though living for ten years is possible. Even 4 to 6 years is about average - or just above average - for birds of their size. Ten years is a very long life indeed.
In the wild, American crows typically live for 7 to 8 years. Some have been recorded to live for 15 years, and there is an unverified account of an American crow living for 30 years.
There is little data on the average life expectancy of Pied crows, but they may live some of the longer lives of crows at around 12 to 20 years on average. This is similar to the Torresian crow and likely represents the warmer climates of their typical range (Africa and Australia).
Three juvenile Carrion crows perched on a branch
No birds can live until they’re 500 years old. In fact, no terrestrial animal can live 500 years old. The oldest animal ever recorded is the quahog clam which can live for some 500 years.
Ravens are from the same family and genus as crows, but despite their similarities, they’re still very different birds.
Ravens are longer-lived than crows and are amongst the longest-lived Passerine birds on the planet. They regularly live for 15 years, often reaching 20 years of age. In captivity, ravens can live for 60 years. Ravens also have a higher infant survival rate, with roughly half surviving until maturity.
Do you have a question about this topic that we haven't answered? Submit it below, and one of our experts will answer as soon as they can.
Get the latest BirdFacts delivered straight to your inbox
© 2022 - Bird Fact. All rights reserved. No part of this site may be reproduced without our written permission.