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

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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.

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