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Why do flamingos stand on one leg?

Photo by Lex Melony on Unsplash

Flamingos have made their mark in the bird world, with their colourful pink feathers, long beaks and long necks.

As well as their appearance, they’re also known for their very long, thin legs – and it’s not unusual to see them perched on just one of them, a stance they adopt for several hours of the day – even when they are sleeping.

But just why do flamingos only stand on one leg for such long periods of time?

Well, nobody’s completely sure of the answer, but there are some pretty good theories knocking around…

Why do flamingos stand on one leg?

Although there’s no definitive answer for this, scientists have suggested that flamingos stand on one led to stop their muscles from getting tired.

According to a study of flamingo cadavers in 2017, the birds are able to passively support their bodyweight while only standing on one leg – but would find it harder to do so if they were standing on two.

It’s been suggested they may have a ‘locking’ mechanism of tendons, ligaments and muscles – similar to that found in horses – which enable them to ‘lock’ their joints and keep their balance on one leg.

This could also mean they move faster to escape predators – although evidence has suggested that they can make a faster getaway when standing on both feet.

Flamingos are not the only birds who habitually stand on one leg – with ducks, swans and geese also adopting the same single-legged pose.

While it’s also been suggested that they may stand on one leg to try and conserve body heat – with one study finding that they tended to adopt a one-legged stance more often in colder weather – it’s now thought this isn’t the case.

Dr Paul Rose, a zoologist at the University of Exeter, told BBC Science Focus: ’Flamingos, like most water birds, have very reduced blood vessels in their legs. They have a counter-current heat system, meaning they warm blood that’s returning from the foot to the body, and cools blood that’s leaving the body to the foot.

‘This means they already have an in-built mechanism for saving heat. Therefore, it’s simply more likely they’re looking to save energy by standing on one leg.’

Why are flamingos pink?

Despite being known for their rosy feathers, flamingos aren’t always pink – in fact they’re born grey and gradually turn pink due to their diet.

Flamingos in the wild eat blue-green algae and brine shrimp, both of which contain a chemical called canthaxanthin – while In zoos this chemical is added to the food given to the birds.

Canthaxanthin is also an ingredient used in certain brands of sausage – but it’s unlikely to have a similar effect on humans, as you would need to eat a lot of sausages for you to turn flamingo pink.

Even a flamingo egg yolk is pink, and some researchers believe their skin has been stained too.

During the mating process, both male and female birds will flush a deeper pink as a sign that they are ready to breed.

Credit: Original article published here.

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