Birds have a maximum longevity (MLSP) much greater than mammals of similar metabolic rate and body size. Thus, they are ideal models to identify longevity characteristics not linked to low metabolic rates. In this investigation, we show that the fatty acid double bond content of total lipids and phosphatidylcholine, phosphatidylethanolamine and cardiolipin fractions of heart mitochondria is intrinsically lower in pigeons (MLSP = 35 years) than in rats (MLSP = 4 years). This is mainly due to a lower content of the most highly unsaturated docosahexaenoic acid (22:6n-3) and in some fractions arachidonic acid (20:4n-6). The lower double bond content leads to a lower sensitivity to in vitro lipid peroxidation, and is associated with a lower concentration of lipid peroxidation products in vivo, and a lower level of malondialdehyde-lysine protein adducts in heart mitochondria of pigeons than rats. These results, together with those previously obtained in other species or tissues, suggest that a low degree of fatty acid unsaturation is a general characteristic of longevous homeothermic vertebrate animals both when they have low metabolic rates (mammals of large body size) or high metabolic rates (small sized birds). This constitutive trait helps to protect their tissues and mitochondria against lipid peroxidation and oxidative protein modification and can be a factor contributing to their slow rate of aging. The results also show, for the first time in a physiological model, that lipid peroxidizability is related to lipoxidative protein damage.