Home » Are Parrots Left or Right Footed? [Handedness in Birds]
do parrots have a dominant foot?

Are Parrots Left or Right Footed? [Handedness in Birds]

Handedness was once considered unique to humans, but research shows that parrots prefer one side of their body. About 80% of parrots prefer to use their left-hand side.

Handedness enables parrots to forage for food and avoid mid-air and head-on collisions during flight. Juvenile parrots are more likely to be ambidextrous but soon grow out of this behavior.

While studies are still ongoing, researchers can test whether parrots are left or right-footed by observing their behavior using a series of tests and analyzing the results.

Do Parrots Have a Dominant Foot?

Research shows that parrots use one side of their body more than the other. However, they’re not born this way, adopting a specific side over time.

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

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

By exhibiting this behavior, parrots use one eye to view the object and then the foot on the same side to grasp it, which allows them to scrutinize food. During the study, the researchers also 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 that displayed no relationship between eye and foot preferences. Researchers theorize that this is because cockatiels forage differently from other parrots, feeding on small grass seeds that require little foot-to-eye coordination.

Juvenile parrots that were newly fledged experiment with both feet before they settle on one side.

Are All Parrots Left-Handed?

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

Similarly, the same study found that all sulphur-crested cockatoos are left-handed. Researchers and scientists are yet to find any that use their right feet to pick up food and other objects.

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

How Is Handedness Tested For In Parrots?

We measure handedness by observing parrots and monitoring how they interact with their food. In Left-Handedness in Parrots, researchers studied handedness in 20 caged birds under uniform conditions.

During the study, researchers placed a slice of apple measuring 2 inches long and 1/4 of an inch wide on the floor in front of each cage where the parrots could reach it from both the left and right sides. They then observed and recorded the birds’ behavior, repeating the test with carrot slices.

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

Instead, once they grasp the food, they either 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.

While only a small study, it enables us to build a picture of handedness behavior in parrots.

are all parrots left-handed?

Why Do Parrots Develop Handedness?

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

Foraging

It’s thought that vertebrates, like parrots, prefer using one side of their bodies to perform routine tasks, like foraging for food in the wild.

Parrots have evolved over millions of years, developing adaptations that have enabled them to survive. One adaptation is lateralization, which is where parrots can use one brain hemisphere over the other.  

Lateralisation helps parrots in complicated problem-solving situations, enabling them to forage more efficiently. In Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, researchers tested eight Australian parrots to test whether handedness gave parrots a cognitive function advantage.

Researchers observed the parrots carrying out the following problem-solving tasks:

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

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

In simpler terms, birds that prefer to use one foot over the other are better at solving tasks than birds that use both feet interchangeably. However, there were few differences in the cognitive abilities of birds that preferred to use either their left or right foot.

Guiding the Flock

Not only is handedness beneficial for foraging, but it also helps parrots guide the flock when migrating.

Parrots prefer to live in large communities where they feel protected from predators and other dangers. They also forage for food and shelter in groups, achieving a better success rate.

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

Researchers trained 10 male budgies to fly through a tunnel to reach this conclusion. They released 2 birds at a time from opposite ends, testing 7 birds over a total of 102 flights. During the entire study, no collisions were recorded.

Handedness enabled birds to avoid each other in the air, preventing serious accidents and injuries. This behavior also helps them land on branches and perches in the wild when they’re in their flocks.

Handedness is more than a preference for the left or right foot; it’s a survival tactic that gives parrots an evolutionary edge in the wild.

It’s also a natural process they go through to understand their bodies. Observe your parrot to see which foot it uses to pick up food to determine whether it’s left-footed or right-footed.