May 14 2010
Let’s talk about toes.
We have five toes on each foot. Birds have four.
Our five toes point forward. Birds have three that point forward and one that points back(*).
Here a Baltimore oriole is using his toes to perch on the edge of a jelly container. In the first photo it looks like he’s fine with only his front three toes, but in the second you can tell that without his halluces (red arrow) he’d fall into the dish!
If our big toes pointed backward we’d be able to perch on edges too — but then we couldn’t wear shoes.
(* Note: Osprey feet have three toes that point forward and a hallux that points back but osprey can rotate their outer toes backward. This makes a two-toes-front-two-toes-back arrangement that helps them carry fish.)
p.s. See the comments below for more birds who have two-and-two toes.
(photo by Marcy Cunkelman of a Baltimore oriole diving into her jelly container to get a snack)