About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Bird toes

Most birds we observe have four toes, but the exact number of toes and their arrangement, as well as their proportions, varies from family to family. The perching birds we see at the feeders in mid-Michigan usually have anisodactyl feet. That means they have three toes that point forward and one toe that points backward to make it easy to grab a perch. The woodpeckers’ feet are an exception to the birdfeeder crowd. They have zygodactyl feet meaning two toes point forward and two point backward so they can get a good grip on a tree bark.

Birds that use their feet for waiting in trees, climbing, grabbing prey, and carrying it away are equipped with sharp curved and pointed claws like hawks, eagles, and falcons. Feet that run and scratch usually have strong stout toes with blunt claws like turkeys, grouse and others. Feet for swimming may have the first three toes webbed like ducks and gulls or include a webbed back toe as well like the pelicans and cormorants. The grebes and coots just have lobed toes for swimming. And the long toes of the herons spread the bird's weight over a large surface area to facilitate walking on soft surfaces near the water's edge where wading birds like to eat.

The size and shape of the claws and the way the toes are arranged as well as the length of the toes and the degree of webbing are all dependent on what a bird uses its feet for and where it lives. Like a bird's bill its feet reveal a lot about its lifestyle and the next time you have a chance take a close-up look at the fascinating feet of birds.

Related Articles: 
Do Birds Have Thumbs? http://bit.ly/qK21qA
Why would birds develop backward knees? http://bit.ly/pEt9mS

3 comments:

Tina Coruth said...

What an interesting article! Thank you!

Connor said...

I never knew sparrow's feet look like that :) Thanks for sharing the illustration!

Beaverton Pet Clinic said...

This is a very educational article to share with our clients. Thank you very much!