Have you ever looked at a bird’s foot? Better still, have you ever really looked at your own foot? It is a marvel of human development. Humans, usually, have five toes on each foot. This number is important for maintaining balance, but not critical enough to carry out daily survival activities.
Birds, for the most part, have four toes on each foot, three are fanned forward and a single toe oriented to the rear. While our feet are pretty much the same from one person to the next, birds’ feet are very specialized, such as webbed feet for swimming. In case you didn’t notice, birds stand on their toes, not on the flat of their feet as humans do.The feet of perching birds, such as sparrows, wrens, warblers, thrushes, etc., can do almost anything, from walking to hopping, and nimbly holding onto any nearby object.
When a bird lands on a perch, a tendon in the back of its leg tightens so that the toes “lock.” This involuntary reflex keeps a sleeping bird from falling off its perch. The bird simply stands up and straightens its legs to “unlock” the tendon.
On most woodpeckers, the toes are arranged a little differently. This species has two angled forward and two backward. This gives them better balance and stronger support for climbing or standing on rough bark while excavating holes in trees.
The stubby legs of white-breasted nuthatches give them the perfect balance no matter what their position. Their long toes and down-turned claws permit this species of songbirds to quickly go headfirst down a tree in search of bugs in tree bark.
Let us not forget the hummingbirds, which do most of their feeding on the wing. Their feet are tiny and so weakly developed that hummers are actually classified as the order “Apodiformes”, which translate into “without feet.” Many people still believe the myth that hummingbirds do not have any feet.
Bird’s feet and toes are mostly tough tendons and bones, covered with heavily scaled skin. There is a very limited supply of nerves, blood vessels or muscles. This is why their feet do not stick to metal feeder perches or wire fences when temperatures go down. When songbirds roost for the night, their belly feathers cover their feet to keep them warn.
Mother Nature, in her infinite wisdom, has adequately provided birds with extremely effective protection against wintry weather, right down to the toes.
Enjoy your birds!
Wild Bird Depot is located on Rt 11 in Gilford, NH. Steve is a contributing author in major publications, a guest lecturer at major conventions in Atlanta and St. Louis as well as the host of WEZS 1350AM radio show “Bird Calls” with Lakes Region Newsday @ 8:30AM. Wild Bird Depot has donated over $5,000 to local rehabilitators and local nature centers since 1996. Be sure to check out our blog “Bird Droppings” via our website www.wildbirddepot.com. Like us on Facebook for great contests and prizes.