Great Blue Heron’s One-Legged Stance

My image today is of a Great Blue Heron standing on one leg on a fishing pier. I photographed this Heron at Charleston Lake in Charleston, Arkansas on January 3, 2024.

Great Blue Heron's One-Legged Posture on a Fishing Pier
Great Blue Heron’s One-Legged Posture on a Fishing Pier (Larger Image)

There are actually a few reasons why some birds stand on one leg! Here are the two main ones:

  1. Conserving heat: Birds don’t have feathers on their legs and feet, so these areas are the prime spots for losing body heat. By tucking one leg up under their body, birds can reduce the amount of exposed skin by half, helping them stay warm in cold weather. This is especially important for long-legged birds like herons, ducks, and geese.
  2. Resting one leg: Standing on one leg can be a way for birds to rest one leg while keeping the other ready for action. This is particularly common in birds that stand for long periods of time, like hawks and falcons. By switching legs regularly, they can avoid fatigue and muscle cramping.

Interestingly, some scientists believe that standing on one leg may also play a role in camouflage or predator protection. The one-legged stance can break up the bird’s outline, making it harder for predators to spot them. Additionally, it may allow the bird to remain more alert and ready to react to danger.

I have written about this behavior before after seeing and photographing a “Red-shouldered Hawk’s One-legged Perch.” In that post and this one, I think both birds could be conserving heat.

Another interesting thing about the above photo is that back on December 31, 2013, I shared an image of a Great Blue Heron standing on this same metal fishing pier (Great Blue Heron On Metal Dock). In that image, the Heron is doing the exact same thing and almost in the same spot.

Image Information:

  • Date: 01/03/24
  • Time: 08:36 AM
  • Camera: Canon EOS R5
  • Lens: Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM
  • ISO: 1000
  • Aperture: 8
  • Shutter: 1/800
  • Exp. Comp.: +0.3
  • Lens (mm): 500
  • Program Mode: Manual