Why Don’t Birds Fall Off Their Perches When They Sleep?

Why don´t birds fall off their perches when they sleep?On my way to work this early morning, I noticed that a few birds were perched on the swaying wires – comfortably. On top of it, they were sleeping peacefully without the fear of nose-diving to the ground in their sleep. I was curious to find the answer to why don’t birds fall off their perches when they sleep.

The short and sweet answer to this is – Their toes grip on the branch, regardless of the size. The pads underneath their claw provide enough grip. But that’s not all. Their weight on their ‘ankle’ when they bend and perch makes for a perfect locking mechanism.

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    So does that mean ducks can perch on the branch as well? The simple answer is no. Read on to know why.

    The zigzag leg form that helps them in staying put on a branch

    Source: Wikimedia

    Take our leg for example, we have two long bones starting from hip and ending at our foot. From our foot, it is connected via our heels. But birds have 3 long bones instead of 2 like ours.

    When we bend, we form ‘>’ shape from our hip joint to foot. But in birds, it is roughly in Z form when you consider it from their femur to their toes.

    We generally observe them to be perching in ‘<‘ form rather than Z. Their feathers mostly hide their femur, so that’s why it baffles most of us when they get their sleep while perching perfectly.

    Now, the visible ‘<‘ you find on the bird is their ankle. They balance their weight on it, which activates their locking mechanism without much muscular effort.

    Understanding the foot and tendons

    These perching birds have four toes on each foot. Three of them face forward and one of it faces backward. These four toes can move independently, but the backward facing toe is the strongest when it comes to gripping.

    When the bird decides to perch on a branch, it first grips on it. There are flexor tendons on the bird’s legs that tighten when the bird sits on its ankle. This is somewhat like a pulley system where the tendons flex when the joints are bent.

    So when a bird opens its toes to perch and sits, the tendons around each of the toe pulls and automatically locks in. This lock-in system can only be released when the bird straightens its legs for flight.

    Till the time its weight is on the ankle (which is pretty much effortless for the bird), there is no muscular effort to keep it locked in. When the legs straighten, the tendons relax and they are ready to fly.

    They are not weighed down by their own weight

    This might also spark a thought if the bird feels any amount of pain or effort while balancing its weight on a branch. All the fluff that you see on a bird is mostly feathers and fused in bones.

    The skeletal system of the bird is made in such a way that they are lightweight. Some of the bones are hollow to shift weight more evenly and easily. This helps them in aviation and in perching.

    Their perching habit is vital to their survival

    Survival doesn’t only mean getting food, but it also means saving yourself from the predators. It is important for them to keep their wings and legs intact. If their tendons are snapped, they will be immobilized.

    Just like if our Achilles tendons are snipped off, we wouldn’t be able to walk as well.

    This would also affect their flight as well. If they are not able to perch, they would be prone to falling off in their sleep. Also, it would be uncomfortable for them to shift their weight entirely on one leg.

    They will bounce on one leg, using force from their abdomen.

    They will have bad landings and their lifespan is also cut short to half when it happens.

    As heartbreaking as it might sound, if they do miss a limb, they will also have difficulty in mating. Their mating ritual needs both of their legs to be able to attract the other sex.

    But the good news is that they don’t feel the psychological trauma of missing a limb as much as we humans do. Their focus is on adapting to the new condition and making the best out of it. Else, they wouldn’t be able to survive.why do birds not fall off a branch

    They can remain half-awake to watch out for predators

    Perching birds have evolved to be more alert while they are sleeping. Some of them can sleep with one eye open and the other one closed. Their half of the brain sleeps while the other half remains alert. This is called Unihemispheric Slow-Wave Sleep (USWS).

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      Related Questions

      1. Can ducks perch on the branch and sleep like this?

      The answer is obviously NO, but why? So all birds can’t perch? Then how many birds can actually perch?

      Almost half of the bird species can perch. But why do perching birds perch? Some perch to rest after a long flight, some perch to sleep. Some birds make no nest and find it better to sleep on branches.

      Ducks and other aquatic birds have feet that keep them afloat and away from land predators.

      2. How do non-perching birds sleep?

      Birds like Quail lay on low-vegetation to hide and sleep. Some make a nest in the cavity of a tree such as Woodpeckers.

      This categorization does have a name: Passerine (perching) and Non-Passerine (non-perching). There are also Semi-Passerine birds. These birds may have a combination of behavior from both the sides of the category.

      Passerine Birds:

      • Jays
      • Larks
      • Crows
      • Ravens
      • Magpie
      • Mocking Bird
      • Starling
      • Bird of Paradise
      • Finch
      • Nightingale
      • Mynah
      • etc.

      Semi-Passerine Birds:

      • Rainbow Pitta
      • Superb Lyrebird
      • Western Bristlebird
      • Hoopoe
      • Rufous Treecreeper
      • etc.

      Non-Passerine Birds

      • Ducks
      • Geese
      • Swans
      • Hawks
      • Eagles
      • Hummingbirds
      • Kingfishers
      • Penguin
      • Albatross
      • Parrots
      • Ostriches
      • etc.

      3. Can a bird’s leg heal on its own when it is injured?

      It depends on the type and degree of an injury but you can still determine if the injury needs medical intervention or not.

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        Is the bird missing a leg?

        Or is it hiding its leg in its plume while standing? The hiding leg will be somewhat visible when they take a flight.

        If you notice that the bird’s leg is tangled with fishnet, tight thread, and the likes, you need to intervene if possible. This is because there are 90% chances that this thread-like trap would cut off the blood circulation to leg.

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          This would then result in amputation.

          4. How do you take care of an injured bird?

          You might want to take matters in your own hands when you feel sympathetic towards an injured bird. But you need to make sure you are well prepared to handle the situation with care.

          1. You need to first have a well-ventilated cardboard box fit for the injured bird. You can place towels on the bottom to keep it warm.
          2. Second, take thick gloves and a towel to be able to gently catch the distressed bird.
          3. Put the bird in the well-ventilated cardboard box. Make sure it remains in a dark and warm place to feel safe from predators.
          4. Do not feed the bird. Only put a small bowl of water on the side to keep the bird hydrated.
          5. Now, call in veterinarian or animal rescuers who will be able to treat the injured bird.

          In case of larger birds like birds of prey, exercise more caution, as they have sharp claws. You might have to fit them in a bigger cage such as dog carriers or cat carriers.

          We hope that your query has been answered thoroughly by us. Feel free to leave a comment or feedback!

          Photo of author

          Gaurav Dhir

          Gaurav is an animal enthusiast. He lives in beautiful Ontario with his energetic family. As a part of his work at beautyofbirds.com, he has been working with ace parrot trainer, Cassie Malina to understand bird behavior and learn more about how he can train his feathered companions.

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