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Birds’ Knees

Dear Bird Folks,

The other day I was thinking about how weird birds’ legs are and how their knees are backwards. At least they are backwards compared to our knees. Why would birds develop backwards knees?

– Julie, Dennis


Yo Jule,

I think about birds a lot more than the average person, but even I don’t have enough extra time in my head to dedicate it to thinking about birds’ knees. I spend most of my time thinking about the gizzard. But hey, who doesn’t?

I hate to be the one to break this to you, Jule, but a bird’s knee bends the same direction as our knee does. Take a look in your bird book at a heron. (Not now, wait until you are done reading this.) You’ll notice that the knee appears to be bending backwards. But here is the deal, that ain’t the knee. The part that is bending backwards is (are you ready?) the ankle. No kidding. Basically, the bird has a long skinny foot with toes on the very end. The heron’s real knee is covered up with feathers and hard to see, but believe me, it’s there. And their real knee, the one that is covered up with feathers, bends the same way as ours.

Now that you have this knee thing settled, Julie, I think that you should get on with the more important issues of life. That’s right, it’s time to focus your thoughts on things that matter: world peace, a better environment and the gizzard.