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New Greeting Cards! Six beautiful designs taken from Bridget's painting exhibition earlier this year.
New Greeting Cards! Six beautiful designs taken from Bridget's painting exhibition earlier this year.

Why Do Some Birds Stand On One Leg?

Why Do Some Birds Stand On One Leg?


6 minute read

Why do some birds stand on one leg?

Have you ever gone down to the beach and spotted a flock of gulls all resting together and some seem to be one legged birds? Were you worried some horrific accident had befallen them?! Or did you manage to watch them until they shifted position and their second leg came down, or maybe they even swapped legs and continued their one legged balancing act on their opposite leg?

Perhaps you've seen an egret standing at the edge of a creek, masterfully balancing on one long stick-like leg? Or a duck snoozing at the edge of a lake, beak under wing, one foot holding all their weight? How do they sleep like that?!

why do some birds sleep on one leg?

So why do some birds stand on one leg? 

Well, there are a few possible reasons.

1. One answer is simply to do with conserving energy. A bird's leg is the only part of its body not covered in insulating feathers and therefore the only part where heat can escape. By tucking one leg up into their cosy down feathers they can keep it warm, thus conserving energy and therefore meaning they don't need to find as much food. Food equals energy which is needed for keeping warm. Birds that live in colder climates or that spend a lot of time in or near water (like ducks, brolgas, egrets and wading birds) are especially likely to do this. The most famous one legged balancer is of course the flamingo!drawing of a banded stilt standing on one leg

2. It is possible that birds such as herons and egrets, who stand motionless in the water waiting for fish and other aquatic animals to swim past before they shoot their long neck through the water's surface, like to stand on one leg because they can fool the fish into thinking their solitary leg is a reed or a branch. 

3. Birds might also been seen standing on one leg in order to rest the muscles of the other leg. Birds cannot lie down like mammals so the ability to alternate between legs also helps distribute the physical strain more evenly, reducing the risk of injury or overexertion. 

4. Another reason birds might be seen using just one leg to stand on can be found in the parrot and cockatoo families. These birds often feed by holding food in one claw while perching on a branch with the other. These birds have four toes, two facing forward and two facing backwards. This makes them quite dexterous and able to hold fruit and large seedheads or cones while they take bites searching for the seeds and pips inside. 

a drawing of a cockatoo balancing on one foot while eating a cone with its other foot

'One Legged' Birds To Look Out For In Australia

Water birds most known for one-legged standing include gulls, egrets, herons, ducks, stilts, curlews, oyster catchers, avocets, brolgas and geese.

Owls and other raptors can also be seen demonstrating this behaviour while at rest.

Sulphur-crested cockatoos, corellas, rosellas, lorikeets, galahs and all the black cockatoos can be observed perching on one foot and eating with the other. why do some birds stand on one leg? 

Nature Journaling Ideas

The next time you go to the beach or are on a walk around a lake or dam, or along a river, keep an eye out for birds along the way and notice how many legs you can see. These stationary birds might make good subject matter to draw because they're standing so still (as long as you are quite and don't disturb them!) Notice how the single leg is positioned to take the weight of the bird and to keep it's balance. Can you get the weight distribution correct in your drawing?

More Reading

To begin you and your children's birding journey have a look at my children's bird books here. 

I currently have three books, each one focusing on slightly different habitats. 

Kookaburra Kookaburra Book

Kookaburra Kookaburra Book

$27.95

Take your child on a journey of Australian birdlife discovery. Starting with the Kookaburra in the early morning and finishing with a goodnight from the boobook owl [See more...]   With 12 original lino printed illustrations of much loved Australian birds, each… read more

If you're looking for garden or more common Australian birds I would suggest the book Kookaburra Kookaburra. It is aimed at pre-school aged children and introduces 12 commonly recognised birds, such as the sulphur-crested cockatoo, the red wattlebird, Australian raven and of course the Kookaburra! I was told recently by a friend that the reason her and her child know all the birds who visit their garden is down to this book and from playing the accompanying card game. This is EXACTLY why I make my books, so I am always so happy to hear stories like this!

THE BUSH BIRDS - Book

THE BUSH BIRDS - Book

$29.95

Lift the flap on each page and discover more about 12 native Australian birdsIncluded on the notables list for the CBCA (Children's Book Council of Australia) 2022 book awards [See More...]   The Bush Birds consists of twelve riddles for… read more

If you like to venture into the beautiful Australian bush I recommend my book entitled The Bush Birds. Aimed at pre and primary aged children, I have chosen 12 birds found throughout most of eastern and southern Australia (sorry WA) in open forests and woodland. To my absolute joy and delight this book was included on the Children's Book Council Of Australia's notable list in 2022. I am allowed to stick a pretty sparkly blue sticker saying so on each copy now, very proud!

THE BEACH BIRDS - Book

THE BEACH BIRDS - Book

$29.95

More Info "I adore this book! It has everything, empathy, information, rhythm and rhyme, playful (and informative) flaps and a dedication to birdlife which I'm sure readers will be sure to imbibe... We are very pleased and proud to include… read more

If you are a beach dweller or love to visit Australia's ample coastline then The Beach Birds is the book for you. Again aimed at primary school aged children and younger and like The Bush Birds includes lift the flaps. Each page includes a riddle to guess the name of the bird, the answer of which is hidden under the flap. More information about each bird can be found at the back of the book, and, as with all of my books, there is an accompanying card game to reinforce what is written in the book. 

I hope that these books are the perfect beginning to every child's bird loving journey. I hope that they will teach children and parents alike to search and notice and enjoy the natural world around them.

why do some birds stand on one leg?

Why do some birds stand on one leg?

Some more information about birding with children - 

https://newywithkids.com.au/birdwatching-with-kids/

https://www.ecoexplorers.com.au/downloads/australian-birds-activity-pack/

So next time someone asks "why do some birds stand on one leg?" you now know the answer!

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