Feet of the Swiftie

To: <>
Subject: Feet of the Swiftie
From: "Geoffrey Dabb" <>
Date: Sun, 5 Sep 2010 16:04:50 +1000

I think it’s an interesting aspect of these birds.  Just a couple more points.  These are very arboreal little chaps, not seen on the ground unless drinking.  They are also small and light.  They do not steady the food with the foot when attacking it like many parrots.  Rather they brace themselves with separated feet so they can control the upper body precisely, twisting the head to the target leaf or flower, often hanging inverted for the purpose.  The movements are quick and darting, the food intake lasting only a second or two.  The tongue (not brush-tipped) is relied on but you need to be quick to see it in action.   I have quite a lot of video from previous passings through.  Below are a couple more examples from Friday.


feeding sw ps.jpg




From: David Rosalky [
Sent: Sunday, 5 September 2010 2:54 PM
To: 'Geoffrey Dabb';
Subject: RE: [canberrabirds] Feet of the Swiftie


I suspect that has something to do with the zygodactyly displayed by all Psitticaformes.  Or, they evolved zygodactyly because it allowed more effective foraging.  Cuckoos are also zygodactylic.  Any shots of their acrobatics?


David Rosalky


From: Philip Veerman [
Sent: Sunday, 5 September 2010 2:32 PM
To: 'Geoffrey Dabb';
Subject: [canberrabirds] Feet of the Swiftie


That is really interesting. Sure it is a parrot thing. Has this been described before? Actually it probably happens so fast that we would not normally notice it, until cameras can show it. What is really interesting about this (as a sometimes bird illustrator) is that birds are almost never drawn in books in postures anything like this. Why is that? I can only suggest that I think if I had tired to draw that, it would seem so contrived that it wouldn't work. Not even William Cooper in his great drawings in Forshaw's books give anything like the impression of Geoff's pictures here. Can anyone find painted images of birds in books in postures as acrobatic as these (maybe apart from Audubon).




-----Original Message-----
From: Geoffrey Dabb [
Sent: Saturday, 4 September 2010 10:31 AM
Subject: [canberrabirds] Feet of the Swiftie

Not much of a day for outdoor birdwatching, so another look at the Swift Parrots of yesterday.  One of the interesting things about these little birds is their gymnastic ability.  They seem to be able to adapt to any foliage configuration to get at a feed.  In the below composition I have marked with violet arrows the feet positions of 4 feeding birds.



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