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Are Parrots Left or Right Footed? (Handedness)

Last Updated on January 29, 2024 by Carrie Stephens

About 80% of parrots favor using one side of their body, usually the left. Handedness enables parrots to forage for food more efficiently and avoid mid-air and head-on collisions during flight.

Juvenile parrots are likelier to be ambidextrous but cease this behavior as they learn and develop.

Foot Dominance in Parrots

According to Animal Behavior, researchers recorded the eye and foot preferences of 322 parrots from 16 Australian species while investigating food.

They observed a strong correlation between the eye parrots viewed food with and the foot they used to pick it up. Parrots use their left eye and foot or right eye and foot.

Parrots use one eye to view the object and the foot on the same side to grasp it, which allows them to determine the suitability of food and direct it toward their mouths.

During the study, the researchers found that:

  • 47% of parrots were left-handed.
  • 33% of parrots were right-handed.
  • 20% of parrots were ambidextrous.

The cockatiel was the only parrot species with no relationship between eye and foot preferences.

Researchers theorize that cockatiels forage differently than other parrots, feeding on tiny grass seeds that require minimal foot-to-eye coordination.

Juvenile parrots that were just fledged experimented with both feet before settling on one side.

Left-Handed vs. Right-Handed

Not all parrots are left-handed, but they use their left side more than the right. According to Scientific American, 70-95% of humans are right-handed, and only 1% are ambidextrous.

The same study found that all sulphur-crested cockatoos (Cacatua galerita) are left-handed.

As discussed, parrots aren’t born left-handed. They develop handedness once they realize they prefer using their left foot more than the right.

Testing for Handedness In Parrots

We measure handedness by observing parrots and monitoring how they interact with food.

In Left-Handedness in Parrots, researchers explored handedness in 20 caged birds.

They placed a slice of apple measuring 2 inches long and 1/4 inch wide on the floor in front of each cage where the parrots could reach it from both the left and right sides.

Then, they observed and recorded the birds’ behavior, repeating the test with carrot slices.

Researchers repeated the study a year later and discovered that once parrots pick up their food, they don’t shift it from one foot to another.

Once they grasp the food, they eat it from the original foot or drop it. The study also found that 72% of parrots preferred to use their left foot to pick up food.

are all parrots left-handed?

Why Parrots Develop Handedness

It may seem that developing a preference for a particular foot is just something parrots do. However, certain survival benefits come from handedness, including:

Foraging for Food

It’s thought that vertebrates, like parrots, prefer using one side of their bodies to perform routine tasks.

Parrots have developed adaptations that enable them to survive. One adaptation is lateralization, where parrots can use one brain hemisphere over the other.  

Lateralization assists parrots in problem-solving situations, enabling them to forage more efficiently.

In Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, researchers tested 8 Australian parrots to determine whether handedness gave parrots a cognitive advantage.

Researchers observed parrots carrying out problem-solving tasks:

  • Pebble seed discrimination test: Designed for small parrots who feed on seeds.
  • String pull test: Intended for large parrots who grab objects with their feet.

In both tests, parrots that showed strong foot and eye biases outperformed ones that didn’t, suggesting cerebral lateralization conveys a significant foraging advantage.

Birds that use one foot over the other are better at solving tasks than ones that use both feet. However, there were differences in the cognitive abilities of birds that used either their left or right foot.

Guiding Their Flocks

Parrots prefer large flocks because they feel protected from dangers. They also forage for food and shelter together, achieving a higher success rate.

The Queensland Brain Institute discovered that budgies avoid mid-air and head-on collisions while flying because they always veer right.

Researchers trained 10 male budgies to fly through a tunnel. They released 2 birds each time from opposite ends, testing 7 birds over 102 flights. No collisions were recorded.

Handedness enabled birds to avoid each other in the air, avoiding accidents. This behavior also helps them land on branches when they’re in their flocks.

Handedness is a survival tactic that gives parrots an evolutionary edge. It’s also a natural process they go through to understand their bodies.

Observe the parrot to see which foot it uses to pick up food. Then, you’ll know if it’s left or right-footed.