Ospreys, Like Skateboarders, Favor One Foot Over the Other

The way these fish-eating raptors carry their prey suggests their brains have evolved to divvy up complex tasks.

This audio story is brought to you by BirdNote, a partner of The National Audubon Society. BirdNote episodes air daily on public radio stations nationwide.


This is BirdNote!

If you’ve ever ridden a skateboard, it probably felt natural to favor one foot in front of the other. That’s called a stance preference.

Like us, birds can show a similar preference of one foot – or side – over the other.

Take an Osprey for example. It dives into the water and sinks its talons into a slick, wiggling fish, then flies off with one foot in front of the other.

But do Ospreys tend to carry fish with their left foot forward or their right? That is, do they have a stance preference?

A team of Seattle neurologists reviewed hundreds of images of Ospreys flying with fish. And they found that the birds tend to carry the fish with their left foot forward around three quarters of the time.

Osprey stance preference may indicate something called lateralized brain function. That’s when one side of the brain is in charge of certain jobs so it can handle more complex tasks.

That’s why humans prefer one foot in front of the other on skateboards.

And maybe it helps an Osprey handle a squirming fish that would rather not be eaten.

For BirdNote, I’m Ashley Ahearn.

Today’s show brought to you by the Bobolink Foundation.


Written by Monica Gokey

Producer: John Kessler

Executive Producer: Sallie Bodie

Editor: Ashley Ahearn

Associate Producer: Ellen Blackstone

Assistant Producer: Mark Bramhill

Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by Randolph Little.

BirdNote’s theme was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.

© 2020 BirdNote   April 2020     Narrator: Ashley Ahearn

ID#  OSPR-06-2020-04-28    OSPR-06