Back to Back Issues Page
More on Those Incredible Bird Feet
February 07, 2011
Hi,

Yes..............

I am now a happy man.

Finally, we had our winter storm.

A Blizzard even.

Not as big of a beast as it could've been or I wanted, but I will take it.

14 to 16 inches of wind driven
snow with a total snow for the event of 18.2 inches, (I was hoping for more) that created four plus foot drifts and managed to pretty much shut down a good portion of the region for a day or two and no school for three days.

'The Blizzard of 1978' still reigns supreme and remains the mark for real storms in this region.

Okay, so I'm a strange fella.

As I said before, I'm happy and spring can come anytime now.

An added bonus.............

Daylight continues to grow.

The sun now sets after 6:00 PM in my little corner.

I digress.

A plow service takes care of our driveway.

Until this week, the guy was getting pretty much a free pass this year.

Thankfully we have the service (kinds like an insurance policy I suppose).

For me, there were piles of snow to move from the porch and ramp (couldn't get the front door open).

With little fur kids, a clean area is a must for Keet and Ziggy.

Their little furry butts are so close to the ground that a shoveled area is a must.

Next was digging my way to bird feeders and the bird bath.

Often digging through three and four feet drifts.

Anyone that has experienced a storm can relate and my back is still feeling it.

What was amazing about this storm, it was predicted a good eight days in advance.

When it was a lonely low pressure system in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Technology does come in handy at times.

Even without technology, a person can watch the wildlife and know something is up.

Birds are ultra sensitive to barometric pressures and know a storm is brewing when the pressure begins to drop.

(You may notice how birds head for cover well before a hurricane or severe thunderstorm too...... they know.)

The birds were busy gorging Monday and by Tuesday before the storm hit, I had so many birds, I spent a good portion of time keeping them fed.

It isn't often you see three Blue-jays feeding side by side.

Next was digging my way to bird feeders and the bird bath.

Often digging through three and four feet drifts.

Anyone that has experienced a storm can relate and my back is still feeling it.

What was amazing about this storm, it was predicted a good eight days in advance.

When it was a lonely low pressure system in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Technology does come in handy at times.

Even without technology, a person can watch the wildlife and know something is up.

Birds are ultra sensitive to barometric pressures and know something is up when the pressure begins to drop.

(You may notice how birds head for cover well before a hurricane or severe thunderstorm too...... they know.)

The birds were busy gorging Monday and by Tuesday before the storm hit, I had so many birds, I spent a good portion of time keeping them fed.

Why not, I knew a long day or two was in store and my feathered friends needed and I'm sure appreciated the extra boost.

Raw shelled peanuts and plenty of black oilers.

After the storm we had a couple of bright sunny days and who doesn't enjoy a sunny day in mid-winter?

Even when the temperatures are in the teens, the sun is now high enough in the sky to cause some melting.

Speaking of birds....................

The 2011 GBBC takes place February 18 through February 21.

You can get all the information you need by clicking the link below.

http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc/GBBC_instructions.pdf

Karen is geeked too.

Not because of the storm............

Because the local 'Dollar Tree' moved to a bigger location.

In the same strip center, but triple the space, wider isles so Yolanda can now shop too, and a double pair of 'Star Trek' doors.

(Think of the technology the 1960's series inspired.)

Oh yes, and a larger variety of Dollar Goodies.

Yes, I must admit, I checked it out as well.






Thank you everyone for your positive feedback and response to a future Q&A .

Many suggested every other week to start.

Every other week may work and I think I'll start in a couple of weeks.

If you have any related questions, drop me a line

with your:

First name (last optional).

Your location and of course your question.

When questions start to come in and this is up to you, we will do our best to answer them.

Now then, a couple of readers (Sandy and Harv ) prodded, and twisted my arm until I said uncle and painfully relented into doing a Q&A (Smiling as I write this).

They also volunteered to help me when needed.

When the time comes, I'm sure I will need more volunteers and I have some names in mind (I'm sure you know who you are).

I might add this .............

I like to give credit where credit is due.

Get your question going and let's get Sandy and Harv to work.

I have written a couple of different times on bird legs and feet.

This time however, I will be touching on something totally different.

Something you may not even think about, I know birds don't think about it.

As natural as breathing, bird feet do some extraordinary things like 'Get A Grip'.

Enjoy.






Bird Feet:

An everyday act, as normal as breathing.

Without a thought, birds perch and release their feet.

Most birds -- the passerines, or "perching birds" -- are beautifully adapted for grasping the twigs and similar objects on which they perch.

Their feet are slender, for they don't have to do much more than just hold onto their perch.

The average bird foot has four toes (the technical name for that condition is anisodactyly), and typically the first big toe (the hallux) is turned backward, while the other three toes face forward.

Usually the hallux grows at the same level as the other toes so that it can grasp an object from the opposite direction of the other toes.

Birds walk on their toes. Most have four, with the first one facing backward and the other three facing forward.

The spacing of the forward arrangement and their length varies depending on the species.

Some birds, like chickens, have a fifth toe that is more of a spur, used for defense.

Waterfowl have webbed toes that allows them to paddle in water with ease.

They spread their toes wide apart for the backstroke and pull them together for the forward stroke.

They also walk flat footed.

Some birds use their toes as fingers for holding their food.






Have you ever wondered why perching birds don't get blown off tree limbs by strong winds or fall off while they sleep?

Two Reasons:

First, their opposable toes allow them to grasp their perch front and back.

Second, a system of tendons in the legs causes the feet to automatically lock onto a perch until the bird releases them.

This is how it works: When a bird perches, he bends his legs.

This movement automatically tightens flexor tendons that run down the bird's leg to the toes and causes them to curl, thereby clinching him tightly to the perch.

Perching birds have special flexor tendons to help them grip branches.

The tendons are narrow strips of gristle that extend from the leg muscles down the back of the tarsus bone and attach to the toes.

To hold onto a branch, a bird needs feet with opposing toes that wrap around the branch.

When the bird comes in to land, the toes find a purch and the legs flex and the flexor tendons tighten so that the toes automatically lock on to the branch without thinking about it.

As long as the legs are flexxed, the bird remains in place.

So much so that a sleeping bird does not fall.

The tendons stay tight until the legs straighten. As the bird stands up, it jumps up, its legs straighten, the tendons relax and the toes unlock to release the feet.

Again, without having to give it a thought.

When a bird comes in for a landing, the legs are extended and the toes are also extend.

As th bird lands, the legs bend and the tendons automatically tighten the toes to grip the branch.

When a bird takes off, the legs extend and the tendons relax, which automatically releases the tight grip.

This is how and why birds can sleep while perching and not fall off their perch.

In flight, the legs are relaxed and the feed are closed as well.

This act minimizes drag and helps to prevent injury to a foot.

Claws on a bird's foot are actually specialized scales formed into horny sheaths.

They grow continuously and are worn away through daily activity and are called talons when we are referring to birds of prey such as owls, eagles and hawks.

The Flexor tendons form a mechanical-locking mechanism in many birds that must maintain a degree of grip force,

In raptors, powerful hind limb muscles produce a strong grasp, and a tendon locking mechanism (TLM) helps sustain grip force.

The components of the digital TLM include a 'textured' pad on the ventral surface of each flexor tendon that contains thousands of minute, rigid, well-defined projections called tubercles.

The neighboring portion of the surrounding tendon sheath contains a series of transversely running plicae (folds) that often have a proximal slant towards the base of the toe.

When the flexor tendons are pulled taut, and the digits flexed, the tubercle pad moves proximally over the stationary plicae on the sheath.

When resistance to digital flexion is met, the locking elements inter-mesh and engage and the friction produced prevents slippage of the tendons.

This permits digital flexion to be maintained with little or no muscular involvement.

If you ever watch people that handle or even train these magnificent birds, they either wear an over padded leather glove or more often, will grab the bird by the legs so not to get pierced by this automatic lock and release system.

Without heavy protection, the talons of a bird of prey would puncture a basic glove and drive right through the hand of the bird's handler.

Maybe the most famous non-perching feet are those of ducks, who possess webs between the front three toes, for paddling water.

Woodpeckers cling to the sides of trees and thus need very powerful grips, and have their third toes swung around so that their feet are equipped with two toes up front and two in the back.

Woodpeckers can sleep with their feet hooked into the bark of a tree, so that they appear frozen in a climb

Ground-living birds like pheasants and chickens and yes, turkeys possess very thick, powerful toes with well developed nails, perfect for scratching the ground.

With Birds of Prey, the legs are extend out as they go in for a kill.

Simply be having the legs in this position, the toes and deadly talons are open wide.

As soon as the bird of prey pounces on a target or grabs a fish, the legs relax and the toes tighten and grasp the food.

If the hit doesn't cause death, the shear power of the sharp talons squeezing and puncturing will often do the trick.

When these birds fly away with there meal, you will notice the legs are relaxed and the pressure grip remains intact.

Nature has provided birds with such a wonderful tool, that the bird never has to think about grabbing or releasing a perch or food.

Often a hummingbird may be spotted clinging to a feeder while in a torpid state. Sometimes while hanging upside down.

These are but a couple of examples on the strength and power that the Flexor tendon displayed in our birds.

A Couple of Side Notes:

Bird feet are made of scales and a thick skin.

Bird feet don't sweat or feeze to metal objects and blood vessels contract to deter heat loss in the winter.

Because ducks, geese, penguins and such don't perch, 'Nature' never felt the need to require this tendon action in our web footed friends.

Birds can ‘half sleep', allowing one brain hemisphere to stay alert, while the other hemisphere rests (sleep with one eye open).

As with the torpid hummingbird, birds can and will often sleep with both hemispheres resting at once (both eyes closed).

All the more important to have a solid grip on a perch.

We continue to marvel over our avian friends.

The beauty and toughness created not simply for nature, but our our pleasure as well.

Learn and enjoy my friend.

Well, it is time to fly for now.

Before I do, here is your positive thought for the week.

God Bless.




Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.

Helen Keller (1880-1968) American Writer

Faith unlocks your soul, an answer to unfulfilled dreams

Faith is spirituality something all humans need.

Sharing hope and beliefs, brings faith to one's heart and body.

Open minded allowance that everyone has their own beliefs.

An importance to faith and to those who pursue it.

You can not hope for freedom if you do not give freely.

Give your trouble to God and with faith, cast your own mountains into the sea.

Until then no hope abounds.

Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done.

Matthew 21:21 (NIV)

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

Hebrews 11:1 (NIV)




"Treat the earth well:

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our

Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."

Ancient Indian Proverb

Your friend indeed,

Ron Patterson



PS. If you enjoy these letters, please forward them to friends, family and co-workers.

Better yet, have them sign up so they can receive their own letters.



Gardening For Wildlife.


























Back to Back Issues Page