My son has been more and more interested in my parrots as he’s gotten older.
He’s finally felt comfortable to have them perch on his hands, now, and he’s really enjoying getting closer with them.
When it happened the second or third time, though, he asked me a question I thought was a bit funny: how many toes does a cockatiel have?
I thought it was clear to see by looking, but apparently not!
So, I decided to look into it.
So, how many toes does a cockatiel have?
Cockatiels have four toes on each foot—two facing forward and two facing backward. So, they have eight toes in total. This is characteristic of many species of parrot and is no different with cockatiels. Indeed, number of toes is one of the ways that parrots are identified.
It’s pretty simple to see, if you just look at their feet, that they have four toes.
It can be strange to see because, unlike ours, theirs don’t all face in the same direction.
Nonetheless, they have four toes.
Let’s look at this question in more detail.
Why do cockatiels have four toes?
There are many reasons, although, obviously, the most fundamental answer is that they evolved that way.
Cockatiels do not have a set number of toes because they chose to.
They just do.
That said, many bird species do have four toes on each foot in this way, and it serves a great variety of purposes.
Perching is the first, most important most obvious thing.
Cockatiels do not have the same strength in their muscles as large birds, with no back facing toes.
These birds are able to effectively perch with only front facing toes because of sheer strength.
Cockatiel toes allow them to essentially grip the branch they’re perching on from both sides.
This means that they can much more easily balance on it, and keep their weight supported.
The fact that cockatiels are so small means they have to perch on thin branches, so they can’t have support from a wide branch behind them in the same way other birds can.
Opposed toes can also make gripping objects a possibility.
They would typically use their beak, but having a gripping extremity to help break up certain foods can be a huge bonus.
So, there are quite a few reasons cockatiels have four toes.
Why do cockatiels have front and back facing toes?
Again, the essential reason is that it’s a useful adaptation.
There are not many animals in the animal kingdom who have opposed, gripping extremities in this way.
That is to say that the toes on one foot are opposed to the toes on the other foot, as our thumbs are opposed to the rest of our fingers.
Birds, parrots and cockatiels especially, are uniquely intelligent.
This makes them great problem solvers, but any anthropologist will tell you that having something approximating hands is probably the single greatest advantage an animal can have in the area of problem solving.
Having opposed toes makes breaking up nuts and other hard outer shells possible, increasing the availability of food.
So, in other words, there are plenty of adaptive advantages to having front and back facing toes.
What are cockatiel feet called?
Birds are greatly varied, and there are a great many different ways of describing their feet.
Claws, talons, webbed—so how do we describe cockatiel feet?
What would we call them?
Well, they don’t have clutching talons—these are usually reserved for great birds of prey, like hawks or falcons.
They may be called claws, but again, for some people this may conjure images of more fearsome birds.
The simple answer is that they’re just feet.
They are obviously very different to our own, but they’re also very different from many other bird feet.
Claws, feet, there is no official name for the feet of a cockatiel.
How many fingers do cockatiels have?
This is one I have heard more than once, and the simple answer is they don’t have any fingers.
Wings replace fingers and hands in birds, so in that sense, they don’t have any fingers.
However, you could see a wing as just a very stretched out hand.
In that sense, cockatiel’s wings have many fingers stretching out to the end of its wings.
However, in scientific classification, birds do not have any fingers—just tendons and bones in the wings.
Four toes is your answer, then. Eight toes in total.
Four front facing and four rear facing.
Being able to effectively perch for such a small bird is going to rely on being able to anchor itself on the branch with a claw in that way.
Cockatiels have feet with four toes each, their different toes serving a variety of different functions.
So, the answer doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that!