Chronically high blood glucose levels (hyperglycaemia) can compromise healthy ageing and lifespan at the individual level. Elevated oxidative stress can play a central role in hyperglycaemia-induced pathologies. Nevertheless, the lifespan of birds shows no species-level association with blood glucose. This suggests that the potential pathologies of high blood glucose levels can be avoided by adaptations in oxidative physiology at the macroevolutionary scale. However, this hypothesis remains unexplored. Here, we examined this hypothesis using comparative analyses controlled for phylogeny, allometry and fecundity based on data from 51 songbird species (681 individuals with blood glucose data and 1021 individuals with oxidative state data). We measured blood glucose at baseline and after stress stimulus and computed glucose stress reactivity as the magnitude of change between the two time points. We also measured three parameters of non-enzymatic antioxidants (uric acid, total antioxidants and glutathione) and a marker of oxidative lipid damage (malondialdehyde). We found no clear evidence for blood glucose concentration being correlated with either antioxidant or lipid damage levels at the macroevolutionary scale, as opposed to the hypothesis postulating that high blood glucose levels entail oxidative costs. The only exception was the moderate evidence for species with a stronger stress-induced increase in blood glucose concentration evolving moderately lower investment into antioxidant defence (uric acid and glutathione). Neither baseline nor stress-induced glucose levels were associated with oxidative physiology. Our findings support the hypothesis that birds evolved adaptations preventing the (glyc)oxidative costs of high blood glucose observed at the within-species level. Such adaptations may explain the decoupled evolution of glycaemia and lifespan in birds and possibly the paradoxical combination of long lifespan and high blood glucose levels relative to mammals.

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