WHY IS LITTLE CHICK “MISSING” A LEG?

Why is Little Chick “missing” a leg? That is a question I am often asked when filming Little Chick and an interested person stops by to visit our GHB Piping Plover. Or the comment, “Oh, no, he is one-legged!”

If you see Little Chick resting in the sand and he is standing on one leg, know that he is doing it very purposefully. The short answer is that for the simple reason that you put your hands in your pockets when cold, birds stand on one leg to conserve heat. Birds also stand on one leg to relax muscle fatigue in the retracted leg.

The long answer is that birds’ legs have a blood flow referred to as “rete mirabile” that minimizes heat loss. The arteries that transport warm blood into the legs are next to the veins that return colder blood to the bird’s heart. The arteries act as a heat exchanger and warm the veins. Because the veins also cool the arteries, the bird’s feet are closer to environmental temperature and thus don’t lose as much heat as they would if they were at body temperature. By standing on one leg, a bird reduces the amount of heat lost through unfeathered limbs.

Birds that have short legs, such as Mourning Doves, do not need to stand on one leg because they have fleshy feet and they can snuggle down so that their warm belly presses against their feet.

Forty-one-day old Piping Plover standing on one foot.

Our Little Chick is doing beautifully. I checked in on him briefly at day break and again at 9:30 this morning. Foraging, resting, flying (the longest distance yet, from the enclosure to the back of the Creek.) Both last night (thank you Heidi Wakeman) and this morning, I found him in the enclosure. I think our Little Chick is extra super smart to recognize the roped off area as his “safety” zone. We are grateful to the community and to Gloucester’s conservation agent Ken Whittaker for allowing the roping to remain in place. 

The light was very low and the photo is a little too softly focused, nonetheless I liked the image of Little Chick taking off.

7 comments

  • Love the Plover updates!! We visit the Cape Ann area frequently as we live in Ohio. We made an impromptu road trip last week and wanted to visit GHB but the $30 parking is insane. Any tips you can suggest for visiting the beach without be hustled on parking? I noticed most of the beach areas from Cape Ann – Manchester – Nahant had mostly residential parking only and some high dollar paid parking. Is there a pass that out of towners can purchase that’s good for these lots? Just looking for some insight so we can enjoy some of these beaches on our next visit to the Cape. Thanks! 😁

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    • You pay for what you get, a gorgeous, rock/seaweed free beach. Truly a hidden jewel. Out of towner passes are limited (only 200 available) and $250 a pop. As a resident, the high cost of parking for out of towners is totally legit, as we need to deal with extra beach trash, traffic and hassle. I hear revere beach parking is pretty reasonable, though 😂

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      • I look forward to each update with a mix of fear and excitement. I must say I will be happy to hear that he is safely on his journey. I have started calling him/her “Chicklet”. Thanks for your wonderful work.

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    • You pay for what you get! Pristine, rock and seaweed free beach. $250 for an out of towner pass and only 200 available per season. As a local, I’m happy the rates are so high… we deal with your trash, traffic and other inconveniences. If you want cheap parking, go to revere.

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  • Great shot! Go little chick go!

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  • Craig!
    You will have to come to the beaches out of season OR Rent a beach house for a week.
    I thought they had a 1/2 day rate at GHB for people who come late. Like ski areas have.

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  • Very nice and it must have been the sea breezes and we bit cooler – extremities are an area that cools to the most! Hands and feet for us humans and I hated when you had cold ears and someone would flick their finger on the read ear ouch! Good job here Kim 🙂 Dave & Kim 🙂

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