Why Do Flamingos Stand on One Leg?

Flamingos often stand on one leg when resting or sleeping. The question that comes to mind is, why stand on just one foot when (at least for people) it is easier to stand on two legs? There are several theories for why flamingos exhibit this behavior. Some of them are rather absurd. For example, at least one source suggests that flamingos stand on one leg so ducks don’t run into them as often as when they have two legs in the water. This is hardly a major issue. Since ducks don’t run into things when they are winging along at 50 miles per hour, it is unlikely they would do so while paddling along at one or two miles per hour!

One of the most widely accepted explanations for this behavior is the theory that flamingos stand on one leg to conserve body heat and energy. If you are outside when it is very cold and all you have on is a short-sleeve T-shirt, what do you do with your arms to keep them warm? Most of the time, you tuck them close to your body underneath your shirt. Flamingos do the same thing with their legs. Flamingos have very long legs which offer a large amount of surface area for the potential loss of heat. If they put two legs in the water, rather than one, they would lose too much heat. By tucking one leg up against their body, these birds minimize the amount of heat lost through their bare legs. This ability to minimize heat loss through their legs allows our Caribbean flamingos to continue wading outside throughout most of the winter.

— Sophie Gerard, School Programs Instructor