Parrots stand on one foot, sometimes for extended periods of time. You might worry that this is a sign of a leg or foot injury, but this is rarely the case. Standing on one leg is normal for all species of birds.
Parrots stand on one leg while they’re sleeping, and they may raise one leg at a time to keep warm. A parrot’s legs and feet lack feather coverage, so nestling them into their feathers minimizes exposure to the elements. Because parrots stand upright all day, standing on one leg gives the other leg the chance to rest.
Sores, injuries, fatigue, and general health conditions can make it uncomfortable for your parrot to stand up on both legs constantly, so they switch between legs. Keeping your parrot’s legs and feet strong is essential.
Why Do Parrots Stand on One Foot?
It’s 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 at why it happens:
As 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 foot conditions if there’s no opportunity to give their feet and legs a break.
To help your parrot feel as comfortable as possible, provide perches within the cage at different widths, thicknesses, and textures. This will give your parrot some variety when gripping them.
A parrot’s legs are entirely exposed to the elements and get cold quickly. Parrots can minimize the heat lost by the limbs that aren’t covered by feathers by standing on one foot.
Parrots 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 parrot 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 also prevents too much heat from escaping the body by almost half.
Parrots do this more often in colder climates or rooms that are chilly. If you notice that your parrot stands on one leg frequently, the space it lives in might be too cold.
It’s comfortable for parrots to stand on one leg because their feet are designed for long-term perching.
In between the foot’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 sleeping.
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 reduces muscle fatigue, allowing parrots to wake up feeling rested and alert.
It’s rare for parrots to sleep standing on both feet. If your parrot 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 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 mentioned, it’s rare that a 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 signs that a parrot is unwell:
- Poor feather appearance
- Changes to eating habits, including a reduced appetite
- Reduced or increased thirst
- Drooping wings
- 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:
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 foot, 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.
Injuries can quickly turn infectious if left unnoticed. One common foot condition is called bumblefoot (Pododermatitis).
Hagen Avicultural Research Institute describes how bumblefoot occurs in psittacines. Heavy-bodied parrots, such as Amazon and macaw parrots, are commonly affected. However, it affects smaller parrots, like budgies and cockatiels.
The condition begins with a reddening of the feet’s plantar surface and quickly develops into a 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 at the bottom of the feet. This is due to the locking mechanism that allows parrots to stand on perches for so long. The pressure points are painful and can turn into large abscesses. Other causes include high-fat, low nutritional diets and spoiled food.
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 parrot’s ligaments and tendons and commonly affect 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
- 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.
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
- Lack of exercise
It’s responsible for overgrown toenails, which we’ve 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, it won’t be able to cope with the weight and become sore and tired more quickly than it should.
If you suspect your parrot has fatty liver disease, take a look at its legs and feet 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.
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 have weak legs that can’t support their body weight. The bones distort and prevent the parrot from staying upright.
Rehabilitation is possible, especially while the parrot is young. However, its age and the severity of its condition will determine the success of the treatment. Vets use devices to bring the parrot’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 parrots 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 healthy 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 minimize the chance of problems, do the following:
- Provide a high-quality diet that’s rich in 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 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 have evolved to be strong, even though they look fragile. Parrots can’t hide leg and foot pain for long, so monitor whether standing on one foot has other symptoms that indicate a health problem.