May 5, 2021 | Featured Web Article

Did You Know? Birds’ Legs Are Really Their Feet!

The pretty feet and feathered heel of a Carolina chickadee. Photo by B. Wunderlich.

The next time you get a close look at the birds at your feeders, try to notice their legs, and specifically, their leg joints. Good luck. The leg joints of songbirds are usually hidden by the fluffy body feathers on their belly. All we usually see of songbirds are the naked “calf” above their feet. In fact, however, that “calf” is really the bird’s foot bones, fused into one bone called the tarsometatarsus. Birds literally walk on their toes, with their feet and heels in the air. If you’ve taken a good look at long-legged birds, like sandpipers, herons, or, notoriously, flamingos, you may have noticed that their “knees” bend backward. But not really. What appears to be a bird’s knee is really its ankle joint. It bends in the same direction as a human foot and ankle.

Above the long, featherless foot bone we see clearly on songbirds, and above that ankle joint is the muscular, feathered calf (containing a bone called the tibiotarsus), and at the top of that, often tucked against the belly below the wings, are the true knees of a bird. They bend in the same direction as ours.

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  • Goldfinches will continue as long as Swiss chard is available. I'm watching one eating chard right now (mid-November in Vermont).
    by Brian Tremback, Sun, 14 Nov 2021
  • Birds are on the decline though sunflowers are rarely touched and for weeks hardly .eaten. I'll try a few sparing nuts on the table and a fat ball broken for jackdaws and tits but mealworms were a summer favourite being my go to choice
    by Paul Harabaras, Thu, 04 Nov 2021
  • I’ve been enjoying goldfinches eating coneflower/ echinacea seeds in my new pollinator garden! I will leave the plants out all winter for them if the seeds keep that long? Or should I deadhead and put them in a dry area? Im in CT and thought they migrated, but didn’t know they put in winter coats! What do they eat in winter without bird feeders?
    by Anne Sheffield, Sat, 04 Sep 2021
  • Hi Gary, I will pass your question along to Birdsquatch next time I see him. He knows infinitely more about nocturnal wildlife than I do. Where do you live? That's pretty important in figuring out the answer. But the thief could be raccoons, deer, or flying squirrels. Do you live in the woods? Are there trees near your feeder, or must the culprit climb a shepherd's hook or pole? Dawn Hewitt, Watching Backyard Birds
    by Dawn Hewitt, Mon, 30 Aug 2021
  • This breaks my heart. God strengthen your spirit and comfort your heart.I am fortunate to be taking a vacation next month, hopefully before sky high inflation hits and I can no longer afford it.
    by Ironweeds, Fri, 27 Aug 2021