Legs and feet
Regarding the legs and feet of the birds, some owners are a little confused. The different parts of the body are often wrongly named. This can lead to misunderstandings in the description of an illness. For example, it is often spoken of the claw, although people are talking about a toe. To prevent such misunderstandings, you can inform yourself by reading this article about the anatomy of the lower extremities of budgies. The information also applies to other parrots and parakeets. In pet birds like Diamond Doves or Zebra Finches, in general, the anatomy is quite similar, but their toe orientation is different: Three toes point forward, one toe faces backward.
The leg of a bird starts at the hip. If you look at a bird who is standing, the hip is located at its side. Generally, it is covered by the long feathers of the respective wing. On the other hand, the view of the entire leg is unobstructed in birds suffering from a severe plumage disorder. Therefore some photos of such budgies are shown in this article for illustrative purposes.
If you wander downward with your view, you reach the section of the lower extremity that is not covered by feathers. This part of a parrot’s leg is naked in each bird and thus not only in those suffering from a plumage disorder. Further below, the so-called Tarsometatarsus (1) follows. It is a fused bone that is related to two human bones: the heel and the bone that forms the sole of our foot. Next, you find the parrot’s foot with its four toes (2). Two toes are pointing forward, two are facing backward. This toe arrangement is called the zygodactyl foot and it is characteristic for parrots.
In parrots, the two toe pairs are not equally long. The respective inner toes of each foot are a little shorter than the outer ones. You can easily see this in the illustration near this paragraph that shows a Lineolated parakeet from below. This bird was standing on acrylic glass. The fact that the parrot’s toes aren’t equally long is important for these birds: This enables them to climb and grab. If only one toe were to point backward and three forwards, as in the case of birds like Diamond Doves, parrots would find it much more difficult to grip firmly. Besides parrots, owls also show this toe arrangement.
Let’s now have a more detailed look at the bird’s toes. In each toe, there are at least so-called phalanges (these are bones). Unlike human toes with three phalanges, bird toes can be formed by 2, 3, 4, or even 5 bones. A claw or nail (3) is located at the front-end of each toe of parrots and many other bird species. It is very stable and solid, mainly consists of keratin, and serves various purposes. For parrots, it is very helpful when climbing. Thanks to their claws, the birds get a safe grip on the bark of trees or other surfaces.
How light or dark the claws of a budgie or some other parrots are, depends on the color variety of the respective individual: Budgies with a light plumage coloration, in most cases, also have very light, almost transparent claws. Those birds with a quite dark plumage often have almost black claws. Despite some people claim this, the coloring of a budgie’s claws doesn’t indicate how old the bird is. So it is a rumor that young budgies have light claws and old ones dark claws. You should better just forget about it.
The claws are not build up completely by dead structures like our toenails. In the center of each claw, there is a blood vessel that reaches about halfway or even a little further into the claw. In the schematic illustration near this paragraph, the approximate course and position of these blood vessels are shown by red markings. The fact that these blood vessels exist should definitely be taken into account when trimming the toenails of a pet bird. If too much is accidentally cut off, the blood vessel embedded in it may be injured, causing bleeding on the one hand and pain to the bird on the other. In contrast to the tip of the claw, which is not supplied with blood, the area supplied with blood seems to be at least a little sensitive to pain.
The leg joints of birds
The two easily visible joints on a bird’s leg are misnamed by many people. One cannot simply deduce the anatomy of a bird from ours since it differs too much from that of humans. This is illustrated by the figure near this paragraph. At the very bottom of the leg is the foot with the metatarsophalangeal joint (4). From there the toes branch off. The joint that is located slightly above the foot is the intertarsal joint (5). In everyday life, it is referred to as the ankle joint.
A bone named tarsometatarsus extends between the metatarsophalangeal joint and the intertarsal joint. The intertarsal joint is often mistaken for the knee of a bird. In fact, however, the knee (6) is located further up. If you have a look at a healthy bird who is not suffering from a plumage disorder, the knee is not visible. It’s usually covered by feathers. Between the ankle and the knee, a bone named the tibiotarsus is located.
If you follow the leg further upwards from the knee towards the body, the next joint is the hip (7). It is usually hidden beneath the feathers and in most cases also under the wings resting on the body. It can be felt as a thickening on the side of the spine and the pelvis. So this is the place where the leg is attached to the rest of the body.
The image near this paragraph illustrates the position of all leg joints. The bone between the knee and the hip is called the femur or thigh. Like the hip, it is usually covered by the small colorful feathers and the resting wings. Only in bird chicks or in individuals who lost their feathers, the thigh is visible.