why do parrots stand on one foot?

Why Does A Parrot Stand on One Leg?

Parrots stand on one foot, sometimes for extended periods of time. You might worry that this is a sign of injury or a health condition, but this is rarely the case. Standing on one leg is completely normal for birds.

Parrots stand on one leg while they’re sleeping. They also raise one leg at a time to keep warm, especially in the winter. A parrot’s legs and feet lack feather coverage, so nestling them into the body’s feathers minimizes the exposure to the elements. Because parrots stand upright all day, their legs need a rest, so standing on one leg gives the other the chance to get comfortable. Parrots frequently switch between legs.

Keeping your parrot’s legs and feet strong and healthy is essential. Sores, injury, and general health conditions can make it uncomfortable for your parrot to stand up for many hours at a time.

Why Do Parrots Stand on One Foot?

It’s relatively common for parrots to stand on one foot, and there are several reasons why they do it. Overall, it’s not something owners need to worry about, but let’s look more closely at why it happens.

Rest

As previously mentioned, parrots spend most of their time on their feet, even when they’re sleeping. Over time, their legs get tired and sore, so raising one leg while standing on the other gives the leg rest.

A parrot’s leg bones are heavier than other bones in their body. They need to be strong to support the bird’s body weight. While they can withstand long periods of standing, parrots can develop feet conditions if there’s no opportunity for birds to give their feet and legs a break.

To help your parrot feel as comfortable as possible, provide plenty of perches within the cage at different widths, thicknesses, and textures to give your parrot some variety when gripping them.

why do birds stand on one leg while sleeping?

Warmth

A parrot’s legs are entirely exposed to the elements and get cold quickly. Parrots are able to minimize the heat lost by the limbs that are uncovered by feathers by standing on one foot.

Birds have several arteries that transport blood into the legs. These arteries are in contact with veins that transport blood to the heart. Warm arteries heat the colder veins, but the colder veins also cool the arteries. When a bird stands on both legs, the feet are at body temperature and feel colder.

To warm up, parrots bury one leg at a time into their body’s feathers. This not only keeps the legs warm and cozy but prevents too much heat from escaping the body by almost half.

Parrots do this more often in colder climates or in rooms that are chilly. If you notice that your parrot stands on one leg frequently, the space it lives in might be too cold. Turn up the heat to make your parrot more comfortable.

Comfort

Despite how it looks, it’s comfortable for parrots to stand on one leg. That’s because a parrot’s feet are designed for long term perching.

In between the feet’s joints and tendons are anatomical connections. These connections allow the feet to clamp around perches for extended periods. Many parrots have clipped wings to prevent them from flying away, so they spend up to 24 hours a day on their feet, even while they’re sleeping.

Don’t worry about how long your parrot spends on one leg. Unless it’s displaying any symptoms of pain and discomfort, it’s normal.

Sleep

Most parrots sleep with one leg up. When they’re in the most restful stage of sleep, they pull one foot up into their feathers for comfort and warmth. It also helps to reduce muscle fatigue, allowing birds to wake up feeling rested and alert. In the wild, this is essential when escaping predators.

It’s rare for parrots to sleep standing on both feet. If your bird does this, its legs may be too weak to support the body with only one foot. Many health conditions can cause this, as can a poor nutritional diet.

While parrots sleep, they sometimes rest their heads against the cage for additional support. Some parrot species hang upside down using both legs and feet. And, while rare, some parrots lie on their backs when they sleep.

When Is Parrots Standing on One Leg A Problem?

As previously mentioned, it’s rare that your parrot standing on one foot is a problem. But if your parrot appears uncomfortable or in pain, a health issue might be to blame.

Instead of using one leg for natural reasons, your parrot could be trying to avoid putting pressure on its weakened limb. According to VCA Hospitals, the following are noticeable signs that a parrot is unwell:

  • Poor feather appearance
  • Changes to eating habits, including a reduced appetite
  • Reduced or increased thirst
  • Weakness
  • Drooping wings
  • Depression
  • Inactivity
  • Reluctance or refusal to move

If you’ve noticed that your parrot has started standing on one leg more often and is displaying any of the above signs, it could have the following:

Injury

Unfortunately, as described by the MSD Veterinary Manual, pet birds hide injuries because showing weakness increases the chance of being attacked in the wild. This means it’s difficult to tell when a parrot is injured.

That being said, parrots spend most of their lives on their feet, so foot and leg problems are more prominent.

Parrots with an injury to their foot will stand more often on the other, refusing to put pressure onto the affected limb. Similarly, if both feet are hurt, the parrot may struggle to stand completely.

Parrots regularly cause their own foot injuries with their nails. If the claws are too long and not maintained properly, they become sharp.

Similarly, broken toys or sharp nut shells can pierce the skin and cause discomfort. Look for any puncture wounds or redness on the parrot’s feet that indicate an injury has occurred.

You can clean the wound yourself using an antibacterial solution but take your bird to a vet to get hold of some pain relief. They can also check to make sure infection hasn’t set in.

Infection

Injuries can quickly turn infectious if left unnoticed. One of the most common foot conditions is called bumblefoot (Pododermatitis).

Hagen Avicultural Research Institute describes how bumblefoot frequently occurs in psittacines. Heavy-bodied parrots, such as Amazon and macaw parrots, are more commonly affected. However, it affects smaller parrots too, like budgies and cockatiels.

The condition begins with a reddening of the feet’s plantar surface and quickly develops into a severe chronic infection. Bone infection can occur soon after, as can septicemia. In the worst cases, when the condition is left untreated, secondary infections occur. 

Bumblefoot and other causes of infection usually begin because the foot has been punctured, either by a parrot’s talons or bite wounds from other birds.

Pressure points are also to blame. Over time, standing on a stiff perch causes pressure points to the bottom of the feet. This is primarily due to the locking mechanism that allows parrots to stand on perches for so long. The pressure points are painful and sometimes turn into large abscesses.

Other causes of bumblefoot include high-fat, low nutritional diets, and spoiled food.

Gout

Avian gout is a serious condition that can affect parrots. It’s a musculoskeletal disorder of the muscles and bones around a parrot’s joints.

It occurs when uric acid and urates collect in the bird’s ligaments and tendons and commonly affects the legs and wing joints. Other symptoms of gout include:

  • Refusal to perch because of the pain
  • Excessive vocalization
  • Swollen, red, or warm joints
  • Dull appearance
  • Ruffled feathers
  • Greenish diarrhea
  • Rigid toes
  • Visible white spots near the skin
  • Increased thirst
  • Dehydration
  • Increased urination

Parrots with gout find it painful to stand and may frequently switch between legs. In the end, they will give up standing altogether and find a flat surface to sit on.

Gout is most commonly caused by damaged kidneys from dehydration and high protein levels, calcium, vitamin D3, and salt in food.

To treat gout, you must provide a high-quality diet. The parrot should also be encouraged to drink more often to prevent dehydration.  A vet can recommend the best cause of treatment.

Liver Disease

Liver disease is one of the more severe parrot conditions. Also known as fatty liver disease, it involves a build-up of harmful fat around the liver. The fat infiltrates the bloodstream, which makes the parrot extremely unwell. Fatty liver disease is the result of:

  • High-fat diets
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Genetics
  • Lack of exercise

It’s responsible for overgrown toenails, which we’ve already established can lead to injuries and infection.

Obesity is also a direct result of fatty liver disease. If your parrot’s body becomes too heavy for its legs, they won’t be able to cope with the weight and become sore and tired much more quickly than they should.

If you suspect your parrot has fatty liver disease, take a look at its legs and feed for signs of yellow coloration. This is known as jaundice and indicates that the liver isn’t functioning correctly.

Look for raised scales, too, as this is another sign that your parrot isn’t okay. Healthy parrots should have smooth scales.

parrot standing on one leg meaning

Splayed Legs

Splayed legs, which is also known as spraddle, is a condition where your parrot’s legs go out to the sides of its body, making it impossible for the bird to stand upright.

It develops while the parrot is nesting and is caused by a poor diet, inappropriate bedding, or thick perches that the bird can’t grasp. Parrots with the condition suffer from weak legs that can’t support the bird’s body weight. The bones distort and prevent the bird from staying upright.

Rehabilitation is possible, especially while the parrot is young. However, the bird’s age and the severity of its condition will determine the success of the treatment. Vets will use devices to bring the bird’s begs back to a central position.

Even after treatment, parrots sometimes struggle to stand on one leg for extended periods. Their claws also need to be regularly maintained, as birds with splayed legs find it difficult to take care of them.

How To Care For A Parrot’s Legs and Feet

A parrot’s legs and feet must remain as healthy as possible to give it a chance at a normal life. While strong, a parrot’s leg bones are hollow, making them prone to injuries and breakages. To help minimize the chance of leg and feet problems, do the following:

  • Provide a high-quality diet that’s full of vitamins and minerals
  • Trim your parrot’s nails regularly before they get too long
  • Provide pedi pads so that your parrot can keep its claws short
  • Place perches of varying sizes in your parrot’s cage. A parrot’s claws should be able to curl around them without meeting in a circle
  • Ensure your parrot doesn’t put on weight by regularly weighing it. Obesity puts too much strain on the legs and feet
  • Encourage plenty of exercise
  • Allow your parrot to roam free from the cage so that it can spread its wings and relieve pressure from the legs

A parrot’s legs and feet are adapted and evolved to be strong, even though they look small and fragile. Parrots can’t hide leg and foot pain for long, so monitor whether standing on one foot comes with other symptoms that indicate a health problem.