Why do birds stand on one leg?

on 26th February 2010

In an earlier post on the Crested Goshawk (Accipiter trivirgatus peninsulae) (left), we provided an image of the raptor standing on one leg. This raised questions on why birds stand on one leg and whether it is a common practice.

“Why do birds stand on one leg?” has been a recurring question among birdwatchers for a very long time.

According to Evans & Heiser (2004), birds tuck one foot close to their bellies to keep warm on a chilly day. After all, the legs of most birds are not covered with feathers and they have been shown to be important sites of heat exchange (Steen & Steen, 1965). Other ways of conserving heat include tucking the bill into the feathers of the shoulder, fluffing their feathers to increase the air space and roosting close together.

However, the fact that birds also stand on one leg under warm conditions means that thermoregulation is not the only function.

And while standing on one leg, these birds continue to rest, preen or sleep.

Check out our earlier post on the Hooded Pitta (Pitta sordida) standing on one leg HERE.

Evans, H. E. & J. B. Heiser, 2004. What’s inside: Anatomy and physiology. In: Podulka, S., R. W. Rohrbaugh Jr & R. Bonney (eds.), Handbook of bird biology. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY. Pp. 4.1-4.162.
2. Steen I & J. B. Steen, 1965. The importance of the legs in the thermoregulation of birds. Acta physiol. scand. 63: 285-291.

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.

Other posts by YC Wee

8 Responses

  1. agreed that sometimes it seemed warm but the birds still stand with one leg, for example, the male Crested Goshawk in my garden is usually seen resting on one leg only, and at many occasion, its quite a hot day….

  2. I’ve observed Mr robin on one leg most of the day between catching insects and taking them to its young, it’s been a warm day and reading this article I’ve come to the conclusion he must be exhausted and simply resting when he can, he really has been busy. Wonderful to watch.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Overall visits (since 2005)

Live visitors
Visitors Today

Clustrmaps (since 2016)