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Nature & You: Bird feet an example of Mother Nature's bioengineering feats

A cardinal perches on a branch in Yukon, Friday January, 6 2017. [The Oklahoman archives]
A cardinal perches on a branch in Yukon, Friday January, 6 2017. [The Oklahoman archives]

Mother Nature's bioengineering feats

When you contemplate some aspects of the world of nature, some parts of it will cause you to pause and scratch your head in wonderment.

A good "for instance" is the situation whereby wild birds seem to somewhat effortlessly perch on tree branches and continue to do so as they close their eyes and nod off into dreamland. Why is it that wild birds do not fall to their death?

I know full well that I would not be able to accomplish something such as this. There is no way that I could retain my grip on an elevated tree branch while I knocked off eight hours of blissful sleep. Likely as not, you'd find my crumpled body at the base of the tree when the morning sunshine returned.

The answer to this paradox lies in the mechanical arrangement of the muscle attachments inside the legs of the wild birds. To prepare for sleep, the wild bird squats down on its leg; this action stretches that long, fibrous ligament that links the leg muscle to the feet. This tension causes the toes to maintain a death grip on the tree branch. It matters not if the wind should happen to blow ferociously during the night; the bird has a firm grip on its perch. At the break of dawn, the bird has but to stand up and release the tension on this muscle tendon. The foot can then be opened, and the bird can go about its daily routine.

It is a good example of how wild birds figured out a way to sleep in a place that is relatively safe from predation. It is bioengineering at its best.

— Neil Garrison, NewsOK Contributor

Neil Garrison was the longtime naturalist at a central Oklahoma nature center.

Neil Garrison

Neil Garrison is an outdoor nature enthusiast. He is a graduate of Oklahoma State University/Stillwater; he earned a B.S. degree in Wildlife Ecology. Prior to his 2009 retirement, he was the Naturalist at a central Oklahoma nature center for 30... Read more ›

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