Why do flamingos stand on one leg?



This article is corrected by:

  1. Errata: ERRATUM Volume 32, Issue 1, 119, Article first published online: 15 October 2012


A series of observational studies of captive Caribbean flamingos Phoenicopterus ruber were conducted to determine why flamingos rest on one leg. While frequently asked by the general public, this basic question has remained unanswered by the scientific community. Here we suggest that the latency of flamingos to initiate forward locomotion following resting on one leg is significantly longer than following resting on two, discounting the possibility that unipedal resting reduces muscle fatigue or enhances predatory escape. Additionally, we demonstrate that flamingos do not display lateral preferences at the individual or group levels when resting on one leg, with each bird dividing its resting time across both legs. We show that while flamingos prefer resting on one leg to two regardless of location, the percentage of birds resting on one leg is significantly higher among birds standing in the water than among those on land. Finally, we demonstrate a negative relationship between temperature and the percentage of observed birds resting on one leg, such that resting on one leg decreases as temperature rises. Results strongly suggest that unipedal resting aids flamingos in thermoregulation. Zoo Biol 29:365–374, 2010. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.