View 34: Why do Birds stand on one Leg?

Snowy Egret in the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge near Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Snowy Egret in the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge near Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Ten miles north of Atlantic City, New Jersey, is the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge where I spent a morning photographing herons, terns, geese, ibis and this snowy egret. He got me to thinking why I see so many birds standing on one leg.

A Google search revealed this explanation:

Birds’ legs have an adaptation called “rete mirabile” that minimizes heat loss. The arteries that transport warm blood into the legs lie in contact with the veins that return colder blood to the bird’s heart. The arteries warm the veins. By standing on one leg, a bird reduces by half the amount of heat lost through unfeathered limbs.

I’ve since found out another reason for why a wading bird, like this egret, will stand on one leg since I posted on Monday:

Birds also purposely create their own shadows in the water. Apparently egrets can blend better with their surroundings and look like a shrub to a fish by standing on one leg. The word “pedigree,” which is one’s family tree, comes from the French “pied de grue” – crane’s foot. This is sometimes represented artistically as a tree with exposed surface roots or even a bird’s foot in old ancestral diagrams. Take a close look at the egret’s legs and feet if you ever get the chance. The tough skin really does make them look like tree trunks, and undoubtedly fools fishes seeking a bit of shade for cover too.

Don’t you feel smarter now?

This entry was posted in Animals, Nature, Weekly View and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to View 34: Why do Birds stand on one Leg?

  1. JulieM says:

    It is a fine shot, to be sure! Thanks for the info on the one-legged posture. I always wondered about that…


  2. Jack says:

    Great shot! Fanciful explanation (but well said).
    How would one tes such an explanation?


  3. Anna Surface says:

    Oh gosh! What a great capture! I haven’t yet been able to get a photograph of a egret much less one that poses on one leg! I didn’t know that about birds standing on one leg. Learn something new every day.

    Sounds like a lot of fun spending time at the wildlife refuge photographing birds. 🙂


  4. stphoto says:

    Anna, this wildlife refuge and others have auto trails. The birds and other wildlife are used to cars slowly driving by. This egret was less than 10 feet from me and took no notice.

    The fall migration period is coming up, you should check out any nearby National Wildlife Refuges in your area for opportunities.

    Good Luck!



  5. Gaye Johnson says:

    I’ve seen birds standing on one leg for many years and have never thought to find out why. I just figured they were tired 🙂 Thanks, Scott, for the interesting information about the birds.
    And I certainly like your photos!
    Thanks for stopping at my blog also..Hope you get that D700 FX 🙂


  6. Gaye Johnson says:

    Scott, I’m going to ‘Blogroll’ you to my blog. Hope that’s okay with you.. Thanks!


  7. stphoto says:

    That’s A-OK by me, Gaye! I’ve added yours to mine. You got some great shots there.

    I’m hoping for the D700, too! Someday!


  8. sherwoodisland says:

    GREAT shot! I enjoy seeing the snowy egrets.


  9. visuallens says:

    Nice shot. I always saw birds stand on one leg but I don’t know the reasons.Thanks for the info.


  10. giiid says:

    What a great shot, clear with a perfect lighting, and very interesting info too.


  11. Pingback: WHY DO BIRDS STAND ON ONE LEG - By Scott Thomas « Gaye Johnson Photography

  12. rvewong says:

    Good shot Scott, I like his peering gaze.


  13. stphoto says:

    This entry gets a lot of hits every day. Must be something a lot of people wonder about and google it.

    This was a fast grab shot with the 80-400VR, too. When this was taken, NJ had flying, biting and large flies which were taking runs at me while I took this and then jumped right back into the car unscathed. Whew!


  14. rvewong says:

    Ever found a place that has nice weather and no bugs?


  15. Now that was interesting. I liked the part about standing on one leg to mimic a bush to draw the fish.


  16. Gerry says:

    Well, yeah, but . . . if I were a fish I’d feel like a damfool right about now.


  17. jdvr5 says:

    Birds do that to conserve body heat


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