Question of the Week

Avian Heartbeat count

Sun, 14th Oct 2007

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Mike, Leeds & Bert Latamore asked:

I know that all mammals (except humans) live the same number of heartbeats (about 1.5 Trillion). However, my Blue and Gold macaw has a resting heartbeat 10X mine and a life expectancy of 80 years, in other words roughly equivalent to an elephant or large whale. Why is that? What is different about the avian heart that gives it such a long life?


We put this question to Neil Forbes, a specialist in bird medicine and the president of the European College of Avian Medicine & Surgery, based at Great Western Exotic Vets in Swindon.

Blue and Yellow MacawsA little bit of explanation. The questioner suggests that his birdís heartrate is 10 x his own and I think that, as in many of these cases, some of these figures are wrong. The resting heartrate of a macaw is published to be 127, rising to 350 when being restrained or upset or in flight. And the recommended lifespan of a macaw is 35-50 years as opposed to the 80 years which is suggested. Now taking those figures, that would work out with a heartbeat of 4.3-6.2 x 10^9 so, in fact, far less than the 1.5 trillion suggested. In reality I think the honest answer is that actually birds have less heartbeats than mammals and that isnít a surprise at all. The metabolic rate of a bird is significantly faster than a mammal. Rather similar to a car engine running a bit faster than another car and as such you would expect them to run out a bit sooner than a mammal, rather than a bit later.


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ok, well nobody else has had a guess so i may as well.

Birds, i know can have a heart beat of up to 1000 beats per minute. I guess this is something to do with all of the exurtion of flight. Those that live at higher altitude have (i think) larger hearts and a faster beat.

so, is is something to do with the muscles of the heart? Do they have extra strong heart muscles and or tissue? i really have no idea, but i do like it that we can now try and contribute to the question of the week.

I just wish this had started on the weeks when i did know the answer!, Sat, 13th Oct 2007

I think it to be bizarre to count age by heartbeats. There are so many things to consider other than what may be construded as ''a predermined amount of heartbeats.'' Mr. Scientist, Wed, 4th Nov 2009

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