Have you ever seen a bird flying along with
its feet dangling out behind? Those feet don’t seem very useful, do they? They seem like
just a way for the bird to stop and land if it needs to, but other than that, they don’t
do very much. But, there are a few different ways that birds have specialized their feet
for different uses. Let’s take a look. Let’s start with the perching foot. Most birds
have this type of foot, and it’s the most common in the world. The perching foot has
three toes forward, one toe back. It’s small, it’s light, it’s just strong enough for the
bird to hang onto a branch, but not much more than that. You can find perching feet on chickens,
songbirds, turkeys, all kinds of different birds.
The climbing foot is a variation on the perching foot. It’s got one toe rotated backwards,
and that lets the bird get an extra good grip on branches or bark. This is used by woodpeckers
and other birds that hang onto branches and bark. They use their claws and the direction
of their toes to hang on. Climbing feet are also used by parrots as they climb through
branches looking for things to eat. Next, let’s talk about gripping feet. These
are used by birds of prey. They’re kind of a variation of the previous two, either the
perching foot or the climbing foot, except they’re bigger and stronger, with more muscle
to grab on to prey. You’ll notice that gripping feet are extra strong and durable compared
to perching or climbing feet. The next foot is the running foot. This is
used by birds that run a lot like emus and ostriches. The foot has reduced toes compared
to other feet. Our theory is that the bird becomes more efficient at running or walking
because it has less weight way out on the end of its foot, so reduced toes help the
ostrich and emu to get around quickly. Some bird feet are specialized for swimming.
There’s a few different ways to do this. One way is to have extra flaps of skin that come
off of the toes, like in the Coot. The second way to do this is to have three of the toes
linked together by flaps of skin, like in the duck. And some birds are so specialized
for swimming that they have all four of their toes linked together!
And, because we’re talking about living things, there’s always a few exceptions. An example
of this is the Jacana, which has extremely long toes that it uses for wading, but that’s
actually a perching foot. Another example is the roadrunner. It has “runner” right there
in its name, but it doesn’t have a walking or running foot. Instead, it has a climbing
foot with two toes forward, two toes back. So there’s five major types of feet that birds
have. Now that you’ve seen all five, let’s see if you can identify them yourself.
What type of foot do you think that sparrow has? The sparrow has a perching foot, with three
toes forward, one toe back, and its foot is small and light. And what type of foot does a penguin have? The penguin has a webbed foot used for swimming! There’s so many interesting ways that birds
have found to live, and that applies to their feet as well! To have the world of birds at your feet, please
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