Why do Flamingos Stand on One Leg?

From Issue: Discovery 7/1/2001

Dear Caroline,

Standing on one leg is difficult for you humans, and even more difficult for four-legged critters like me. If we are able to stand that way for just a few minutes, that is a major accomplishment. But flamingos (and many other birds) can stand on one leg for more than four hours at a time and never even lose their balance. So, why do they do that?

While some mystery still remains, people who study flamingos have given us many possible reasons why the birds stand on one leg. First, it allows the raised leg and foot to dry. When you are in the bathtub for a long time, your skin starts to “prune up” and wrinkle. The same thing can happen to the webbed feet of the flamingo. By changing which leg they stand on, flamingos can allow their feet and legs to dry. Second, standing on one leg helps them hunt their food better because their shadow looks more like a tree when they stand on one food. You don’t see too many trees with two long trunks, do you?

But probably the most important reason flamingos stand on one leg is to conserve body heat and energy. A bird’s leg receives three times as much blood per heartbeat, as their major muscles do, and that blood provides a great deal of warmth to the animal. Flamingos have very long legs, which provide a great deal of surface area for the loss of heat. If you are outside when it is very cold and all you have on is a short-sleeve T-shirt, what do you do with your arms to keep them warm? Most of the time you tuck them in your shirt, close to your body. That is exactly what the flamingo doe. By tucking one leg in close to its body, the flamingo is able to stay warm in cooler weather. God sure has given the flamingo a neat way to stay warm, hut food, and stay “unwrinkled,” and He has given us an interesting bird to enjoy.


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