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Left Foot or Right? Handedness in Birds

Having a “dominant” hand improves skill and efficiency in complex tasks
© Simon Tout CC View Large

A parrot’s eyes are located on the sides of its head. So, if it wants to look at something — say, a delicious piece of fruit — it has to cock its head one way or the other do it. And if it looks with its left eye, then uses its left foot. Scientists call this handedness. That’s when one hand — or foot — is used consistently over the other for doing complex tasks. Sulphur-crested Cockatoos are almost all left-handed ... that is... left-footed.
This show is made possible by Jim and Birte Falconer of Seattle, Idie Ulsh, and the Horizons Foundation.

Full Transcript

Transcript: 

BirdNote®  

Left Foot or Right? Handedness in Birds

Written by Bob Sundstrom

This is BirdNote.

Imagine you’re about to shake hands, but with a Sulphur-crested Cockatoo.

[Sulphur-crested Cockatoo calls, https://macaulaylibrary.org/asset/234725, 0.05-.07]

Should you offer your right hand or your left?

You should hold out your left hand. That’s because most Sulphur-crested Cockatoos are left-footed.

[Sulphur-crested Cockatoo calls, https://macaulaylibrary.org/asset/234725, 0.05-.07]

In complex tasks like manipulating a piece of fruit, these intelligent birds work intently with their feet. A parrot’s eyes are located on the sides of its head. So, if it wants to look at something -- say, a delicious piece of fruit -- it has got to cock its head one way or the other do it. And if it looks with its left eye, then uses its left foot.

Scientists call this handedness. That’s when one hand — or foot — is used consistently over the other for doing more complex tasks.

In a study of 16 Australian parrot species scientists found that about half were lefties, a third were righties, and a few were neither.

Handedness, once thought unique to humans, is also seen in chimps and gorillas  — mostly righties — and orangutans — mostly lefties, as well as cats and kangaroos.

The evolution of handedness, for righties and lefties alike, improves skill and efficiency in complex tasks—for both parrots and for humans.

For BirdNote, I’m Michael Stein.

This show is made possible by Jim and Birte Falconer of Seattle, Idie Ulsh, and the Horizons Foundation.

                                                                               ###
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by V Powys ML234725.
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler; Managing Producer: Jason Saul; Associate Producer: Ellen Blackstone
© 2019 Tune In to Nature.org   February 2019   Narrator: Michael Stein

ID#        handedness-01-2019-02-07      handedness-01  

References:

Parrot study summarized https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-135...

Kangaroos, too https://www.google.com/amp/s/relay.nationalgeographic.com/proxy/distribu...

1938 parrot lefty data  https://sora.unm.edu/sites/default/files/journals/auk/v055n03/p0478-p048...

http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_9382000/9382181.stm

https://www.sciencefriday.com/articles/do-other-animals-show-handedness/

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