Much like the shape and build of many different birds, they also have varying differences in the make-up of their feet across different species. While there are actually a wide variety of foot types across bird species, there are two main types that can be found across most of the popular species we view here in North America today.
Bird’s feet are really amazing structures that allow them to hop, land and forage for food on many different structures such as shrubbery and tree trunks. The foot of a bird is made up of an ankle joint, most often confused for a knee and a number of toes, or digits. Most birds operate with four digits, but there are some species that exist with three and ostriches, for example, only have two!
Below are the two most common feet designs in the birding world and a few examples of which birds have them:
The most common foot design in the bird world, this foot features four digits. Of those four digits, three are forward-facing, while the first digit, also called the hallux, faces backward. This foot is common among perching birds, as you can imagine, this foot allows the bird to easily grip and clasp objects like tree branches for perching. The anisodactyl foot is found in robins, jays, grackles, chickadees and other songbirds.
The second most common foot formation among birds is the zygodactyl foot. This foot also features four digits but features two digits facing forward and two digits facing backward. This foot is traditionally found on tree-clinging birds like woodpeckers that use their rear digits as additional support when pecking and removing bark from tree trunks. This foot is also found in parrot species and owls, in fact, owls even have the ability to rotate their fourth digit to the front, giving them a better grip on perches and food.