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Word of the Week: Zygodactyl
February 28, 2020 by Haya Aldoori

Welcome to Word of the Week! Stay tuned for a new word each Friday to amp up your nature vocabulary!

Downy Woodpecker photo by Max Skwarna

Zygodactyl [ zahy-guh-DAK-til] (adjective): describing birds having the toes of each foot arranged in pairs, with two toes in front and two behind.

This unique foot formation, which can look like an X or a K, allows birds to grip things more efficiently.

In woodpeckers, their zygodactyl feet give them the ability to easily climb and grasp onto vertical tree trunks or other structures.

In birds like parrots, zygodactyl feet can provide an amazing amount of dexterity especially for handling food or moving from branch to branch.

In some birds of prey, specifically ospreys and owls, their zygodactyl feet give them the ability to grasp squirmy prey with incredible strength. In fact, unlike most other zygodactyl birds, owls and ospreys can pivot one of their back toes forward if they need it. This means that at times, their feet might look anisodactyl (tree toes pointing forward and one pointing backward) like those of most perching birds.

Keep an eye out for birds with zygodactyl feet on your next visits to High Park!

BONUS TIP: This winter, if you’re looking at bird tracks in the snow and notice prints that are shaped like a "K" or and “X” you’ll know that it’s a bird zygodactyl feet. This unique foot shape can really help you narrow down the possibilities of who made those tracks!

If you are interested in learning about zygodactyl feet in the context of owls, be sure to check out our upcoming OWL PROWL event happening on Saturday, March 21! At this event, there will be live owls and experts from the Mountsberg Raptor Centre leading the indoor portion of our event.

Click here for registration!
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