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27 March 2011 / Liz Johns

They Say Parrots Are Left-Footed, But Are They Right . . . Footed?

Milo the Corella waving his left foot

We’re born with it apparently. Handedness that is, or to give it its grown up name, laterality. Stats show that 88.2% of humans are right handed, leaving 11.8% left handed. Why a person is predisposed to a particular handedness has been the focus of many studies with varying conclusions. Similar studies have looked into the right and left footedness of parrots as they often pick up their food in one foot and bring it to their mouths to eat. An endearing quality, or so I believe, as it is a rather human-like action that many other animals do not have. (And you know, there’s nothing we’re more fond of in nature than animals that do similar actions to ourselves – think chimp tea parties and baby pandas sneezing.) But I digress, back to the studies of footedness that have been done in parrots. The common finding is that parrots are predominantly left footed (47% left-footed, 33% right-footed, the remainder ambidextrous). These aren’t overwhelming statistics into the preference of one foot over the other, but nevertheless do show a tendency.

Perhaps the parrots are imitating us

On reading these findings I thought of two possible influences for parrot foot preference and wondered whether the research had taken them into account. The first thing I thought about was imitation. Birds, and parrots especially, seem to take great enjoyment in imitating what’s going on around them both in sound and action. Is it not possible then that if most people (and therefore most researchers) are right handed, that the parrots under study are picking up food in the mirror image of the researchers placing the food down? Certainly early studies tested caged birds so it’s possible that they were imitating in mirror image the people who were putting the food out.

Perhaps the foot they stand on is the dominant one

The other thing that crossed my mind that I think is worth a mention, is whether we are considering right and left footedness the correct way. Perhaps parrots are predominantly right footed because that’s their stronger foot and the one they sleep on. They would then use their weaker foot to hold food, leaving their more stable foot for balance.

Further research needed

Maybe I should gather together a couple of hundred parrots and conduct my own survey. I’ve got three for starters. Anyone out there that could lend me a few more?  All in the name of science.

 

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3 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. R. / Mar 30 2011 11:15 pm

    informative post! and very thoughtful you are! aah… too bad I don’t have a parrot to lend you!

    Like

  2. Teresa DeMartino / Nov 30 2015 6:09 am

    My Maximilian’s Pionus parrot is right-footed. She holds food and toys with her right foot.

    Like

    • Liz Johns / Feb 26 2016 11:10 am

      There’s always the exception that proves the rule. 🙂 Lovely parrot, the Pionus.

      Like

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