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Avian Toe Arrangment

3-17-14 mourning dove tracks 004As opposed to humans, who use the entire bottom of their feet for support, birds stand and walk only on the ball of their foot and with their toes. When you look at a bird’s leg, what appears to be its knee, bending backward instead of forward as it does in humans, is actually its heel.

Most birds have four toes, arranged differently according to the life style of the bird. Songbirds, as well as most other birds, have three toes pointing forward and one pointing back. Most woodpeckers, being active climbers, have two toes pointing in each direction, which provides added clinging support. The outer toe (of the three forward toes) of ospreys and owls is reversible, so that they can have two toes in back should they need to get a better grasp on slippery fish or other prey. Some birds that do a lot of running, such as sanderlings and most plovers, have only the three forward toes. (Photo: Mourning Dove tracks)

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4 responses

  1. Another really interesting post – thank you! I love learning new things!!

    March 20, 2014 at 11:26 pm



     This is fascinating stuff! Who would have ‘thunk’ it!

    Thanks, Judi

    March 21, 2014 at 9:10 pm

  3. Bill On The Hill...

    Hi Mary,
    I’m not 100% sure, but I believe the Bald Eagle & probably most if not all North American eagles have that same trait of a reversible outer toe for grabbing fish out of water primarily.
    Great post nevertheless…
    Thanks, Bill Farr

    March 22, 2014 at 4:56 pm

    • Hi Bill,
      I don’t believe eagles have an opposable toe, at least according to what I’ve read!

      March 23, 2014 at 5:51 pm

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