Why Do Flamingos Stand on One Leg?

flamingos standing on one leg
Photo by OndrejProsicky/Shutterstock.com

Flamingos are notorious for a lot, from their pink coloring to how they move in large groups and more. One of the things they’re known best for, though, is standing on one leg.

It’s a curious thing to see - a full-grown bird standing on one leg that looks thin enough to snap at any second. It doesn’t make sense and doesn’t appear comfortable or safe to the human eye, but clearly it works for flamingos. So, why do flamingos stand on one leg?

Why Do Flamingos Stand on One Leg?

flamingo balancing on one leg aruba
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It isn’t absolutely known for certain why flamingos do this, but there are some solid theories.

One is that it helps flamingos keep more of their body heat while standing in water. With their webbed feet in particular, which take up a good deal of surface area, a flamingo will lose a lot more of its body heat at a faster rate if it stands in water with two legs rather than one. A flamingo standing in water with both legs submerged will lose between 140% and 170% of the body heat of a flamingo who’s loitering with just one leg below the water’s surface. Losing body heat slower means being able to stay in the water, which is where flamingos find their food, longer. This is known as thermoregulation.

three flamingos standing on one leg
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With that understood, it stands to reason that flamingos that learned to stand on one leg have been more likely to survive throughout the animal’s history on this planet, and evolution has done the rest. Scientists haven’t noticed a gene in flamingos that makes them do the one-legged stance - rather, it’s a learned behavior passed down through generations by parents to their children.

Another theory is that flamingos simply find it easier to stand on one leg rather than two. Flamingos sleep while standing up on one leg, and the more tired they get, the more likely they are to lift a leg up. Studies on flamingos at Zoo Atlanta showed the birds fall asleep easily while on one leg and rock back and forth less while holding themselves up with one stem rather than two. That’s counterintuitive to us humans, but it seems to imply that flamingo joints have the ability to lock but only while standing on one leg, thus providing the bird with comfort and safety in just one pillar for balance.

flamingo balance
Photo by GalinaSkornyakova/Shutterstock.com

A further study at the Birmingham Zoo used two already-deceased flamingos to see if their legs would do the same thing with no muscle activity. As it turned out, once they were positioned properly, the dead flamingos stood on one leg without any issue. Obviously, there’s something very natural about standing on one leg for flamingos.

The answer to why flamingos stand on one leg is probably somewhere in between. It’s believable that both ideas are true, at least to some degree, and there have been tests done that back that up.

Photo by OlgaKopyova/Shutterstock.com

So, next time you see a flamingo standing on one leg and someone asks you why, you can tell them all about thermoregulation, lockable joints, and The Popular Flamingo, where we try to answer all the deepest questions surrounding this majestic and incredible bird.