Why do parrots use their left feet to handle food? 040306

on 4th March 2006

The Family Psittacidae incorporates the parrots, to which the parakeets also belong. These birds are characterized, in many cases, by their colourful plumage, prominent curved beak and short legs. They have zygodactylous feet in that of the four toes, digits 2 and 3 point forwards and digits 1 and 4 point backwards. Such a foot pattern is well suited for grasping branches and moving along the branch. Parrots thus move sideways in slow and deliberate steps, their feet often turning inwards, grasping the branch and moving along.

The antics of the Long-tailed Parakeets (Psittacula longicauda) eating rambutans (Nephelium lappaceum) (top), or attacking oil palm fruits (Elaeis guineensis) (bottom) at the Singapore Botanic Gardens’ Visitors Centre, are amusing to watch. Their feet and beak are very manipulative. The fruit is first wrenched free from the bunch with the help of the bird’s beak. Standing on one foot, the fruit is transferred to the other foot, usually the left foot. The left foot is then raised while the beak is lowered so that they both meet half way. With the help of the powerful beak, the flesh of the rambutan or the oil-rich fibrous outer layer of the oil palm fruit is torn off.

This zygodactylous feet also enable the Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot (Loriculus galgulus) to hang upside down to reach otherwise inaccessible fruits or flowers. It detaches an item and perching on one foot, transfers it to the other foot, again usually the left, which is held up to the beak for ease of access. As in the case of the parakeet, the beak is lowered and the foot is raised to meet each other half way.

Now we return to the question of why parrots use their left feet to handle food. Frankly I have no idea! Do you?

Contribution and images by YC.

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

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