BALANCING BIRDS: Readers show off their birds on sticks, while Log ponders the science behind it

Jordan Swanson
During Thanksgiving 2009, Shari Dronet Melancon of Crowley, La., captured this balancing bird on a stick at Harbor Docks in Destin.

Since the beginning of The Log way back in the mid-70s, it became a Destin stereotype. The editor wouldask a photographer to go out and shoot a feature photo and they'd come back with what amounted to birds on sticks.

Whether perched on pilings or posts, the birds are one of the most photographed features of Destin next to our sun, sand and surf.

Recently, The Log asked its thousands of Facebook fans to share their photos of hungry birds waiting for their next meal.

Not content, we also began exploring the science of “birds on sticks,” so we contacted Gary Parsons, conservation chairman for Choctawhatchee Audubon Society, on the birds’ mannerism.

Birds stand on pilings, Parsons said, because they “like to be out in the open where they can see.” Their vantage point helps them spot things like baitfish in the water and possible predators in the area.

Parsons said most species of birds stand on pilings, primarily seagulls like ring-billed gulls and herring gulls that migrate down this time of year.

And then, of course, there is the balancing act.

“They stand on one leg because they are resting the other one, and they stand on pilings because they’re hoping someone will throw them a piece of fish, but don’t do it,” Parsons said, laughing.

It is illegal to feed many wild sea birds like the brown pelicans, which have become constant beggars for scraps on the docks.

Another theory is camouflage, according to an Audubon website. “Two parallel legs may look suspicious to ground level or aquatic prey. In contrast, one leg might resemble a reed or branch,” the site states.

Researchers say birds also stand on one leg keep warm on a chilly day. Tucking their unfeathered foot next to their belly conserves body heat. 

But since keeping warm isn’t usually a problem in Destin, another reason that birds stand on one leg is that they might only have one leg, Parsons says.

“Sometimes, you know, a fish bites one leg off … mackerel will occasionally eat a foot, but not on purpose,” he said.

But not to worry: Parsons said the birds can get along with one leg just fine.

To learn more about birds and other wildlife, visit, or attend their monthly meetings on the first Thursday of every month at Northwest Florida State College. The public is welcome. The meetings host programs with various speakers who discuss wildlife items including conversation issues, bee keeping, bird watching basics and more.