Birds are a familiar sight in backyards, parks, and cities around the world. Their ability to fly sets them apart from most other animals we commonly see. But birds don’t spend all their time in flight. You may have noticed birds perching on branches, fences, or ledges.

This leads to the question: do birds sit?

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Yes, birds do sit, just not in exactly the same way humans sit due to differences in their anatomy.

In this approximately 3000 word article, we’ll explore the details around how, where, when, and why birds sit. We’ll look at how a bird’s body is built for perching, differences between songbirds and larger birds, types of seating positions, reasons birds sit, and some notable exceptions.

Bird Anatomy and Perching Adaptations

Strong Grasping Feet

Birds have feet specialized for perching. Their toes are arranged with three facing forward and one facing backward to form a powerful grasping mechanism (anisodactyl foot). The arrangement gives stability and allows birds like songbirds and birds of prey to easily clasp branches and prey.

The scales on bird feet help them grasp. Scales on the bottom of their feet (plantar surface) are small, rough, and help the bird get traction. Birds also have scales going up their legs and toes to reinforce their grasp.

Flexible Legs and Toes

A bird’s legs and ankles are adapted to flex widely, allowing the bird to crouch and shift positions easily on branches and while landing. Strong tendons give the feet strength to grasp despite altering positions.

Birds can also flex their toes independently to adjust their grip. They have control over how tightly they can curl their toes around perches. The flexibility and dexterity in both feet and legs enables better balances and firm holds.

Tail Helps Balance

A bird uses its fanned tail as a stabilizer while landing and perching. The tail moves opposite the direction the bird turns its head and body, acting like a counterweight to balance out the shift in weight.

Longer tails provide greater surfacing area and control. This makes balancing easier for birds like woodpeckers and songbirds. Shorter, specialized tails in birds like sparrows and chickadees allow for precise movements in tight spaces.

Researchers found over 76% of perching birds used tail spreading to stabilize posture across types of landing and takeoffs based on a 2021 study. Tail anatomy and coordination plays a key role in successful grasping and perching.

Differences Between Songbirds and Larger Birds

Songbirds Have Thinner Legs

Songbirds, such as sparrows, finches and warblers, have thinner, lighter legs compared to larger birds. This allows them to perch on branches and wires more easily with their lower body weight. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, a songbird’s legs only make up around 5% of their total body weight.

The thin legs and feet of songbirds are perfectly adapted for perching. They have three toes facing forward and one toe facing backward to grip branches. Larger birds like hawks and eagles have thicker legs with more powerful talons designed for hunting and carrying prey.

Larger Birds Have Thicker Legs

Larger birds like hawks, eagles and ostriches have thicker, more muscular legs to support their heavier bodies. For example, an ostrich’s legs can make up around 33% of its total body weight. Thicker legs give larger birds the strength to run quickly on land or stand for long periods of time.

Bird Type Relative Leg Thickness
Songbirds Thin
Hawks and Eagles Thick and muscular
Ostriches Very thick and muscular

The legs of larger bird species contain more muscles and bones to handle heavier loads. For example, a golden eagle’s legs have thick muscle and bone density to withstand the force of diving at over 150 miles per hour.

Additionally, thicker legs on larger land birds provide better stability for walking and running. An ostrich’s powerful legs allow it to sprint at over 40 miles per hour despite weighing an average of 225 pounds.

Common Bird Sitting Positions


Birds have a unique ability to perch or rest while standing on branches, poles, edges of buildings, or any other narrow surface. Perching allows birds to survey their surroundings for food, mates, or potential predators.

Most songbirds have three front toes and one back toe which enables them to grip tightly onto surfaces. The tendons in their legs can also lock in place so birds can perch without using energy.

Smaller birds like sparrows and finches use perching to save energy when they are inactive. Since smaller birds lose body heat more quickly, perching reduces their exposed surface area and helps them retain more warmth.

Larger birds like crows and ravens tend to spend less time perching than smaller birds.


Some birds also exhibit a squatting position when at rest, where they crouch close to the ground with their body nearly horizontal. Waterfowl like ducks and geese often squat near water or on land. Squatting helps them retain heat better than standing fully upright on both legs.

It also provides better stability in windy conditions near water.

Birds that nest on the ground, like chickens, grouse, turkeys, and quail, use the squatting posture to keep their eggs warm while incubating. The parent bird’s breast feathers provide insulation to hold in heat. Squatting on the nest also protects the eggs from predators.

Lying Down

While less common than perching or squatting, some birds will also lie down completely to rest. Small songbirds occasionally lie on the ground with their feet tucked into their belly feathers. Ducks, geese, swans, and other waterfowl float on the water surface when sleeping at night.

This protects them from getting too cold.

Birds generally only sleep lying down when they feel completely safe from predators. Most birds will lose too much body heat sleeping directly on the ground or experience difficulties quickly flying away when startled.

But animal behavior experts believe the extra comfort of lying down to sleep is likely worth the tradeoff for some birds when in very sheltered areas away from danger.

Reasons Birds Sit


Birds sit for a variety of reasons, with resting being one of the most common. When birds get tired from flying, foraging, or other activities, they will sit down to take a break. Perching allows birds to take the weight off their feet and recuperate.

Many songbirds will sit on branches or ledges and fluff their feathers while resting. This allows them to air out their plumage and rearrange feathers that may have gotten ruffled or out of place during other exertions.

Rest periods are essential downtime that gives birds the chance to recharge their energy before continuing their busy days.


Sitting is also vital to birds’ nesting behaviors. When a female bird is ready to lay her eggs, she will sit on the nest while depositing each egg. Once the full clutch has been laid, she will then sit for extended periods of time to incubate the eggs.

Her body heat is essential for keeping the eggs at proper temperature for embryonic development. Most species will sit for multiple weeks without leaving the nest for more than a few minutes at a time. The male may occasionally take short shifts to allow the female to eat and exercise.

Sitting on the nest is crucial for successful hatching and breeding.


Many birds, including crows, starlings, and blackbirds, gather in large groups to roost at night. They converge on roosting spots toward dusk and perch side-by-side on branches, ledges, or other surfaces. This communal roosting behavior may provide safety in numbers from predators.

It also helps conserve energy, as the birds huddle together to share body heat. Sitting together overnight further strengthens social bonds between flock members. In the morning, the birds will disperse from the roost to begin foraging and social activities.

But they will return to the same spots to settle in for the night.


Sunbathing is another common reason for birds to sit. Birds will often perch in direct sunlight with wings spread wide. Sunning helps them stay clean by using the sun’s heat and ultraviolet radiation to dislodge parasites like mites or feather lice.

Turning feathers towards the sun also allows birds to preen away dirt more easily. In addition, UV exposure enables birds to synthesize vitamin D for healthy growth and egg production. For these benefits, sunning is an important part of avian daily routines.

Species from vultures to sparrows regularly bask in the sunshine.

Exceptions to Birds Sitting


Swifts are a family of small birds known for their aerobatic flight and spending most of their lives airborne. In fact, swifts are such adept fliers that they even sleep while flying! Unlike most other birds, swifts have very short legs that are used primarily for clinging to vertical surfaces rather than perching.

This means that swifts rarely ever sit or land voluntarily. Here are some key facts about swifts and why they hardly ever sit:

  • Swifts have very short legs and feet that are not well adapted for perching. Their feet have sharp claws that are used to cling to vertical surfaces.
  • Swifts spend the vast majority of their lives in flight, even sleeping on the wing. They land only to nest and even then just cling to nest walls rather than sitting.
  • Swifts have long, curved wings and a streamlined body shape optimized for speed and agility in the air.
  • Swifts have rapid metabolism and must eat often. In flight, they can swoop and catch flying insects.
  • Some swifts can stay airborne for over 300 days nonstop, periodically even sleeping in flight by gliding on air currents.

In essence, sitting or perching goes against a swift’s anatomy and lifestyle which centers on aerial agility. While other birds may happily perch and sit, swifts are quite literally built for life on the wing. For them, sitting is the exception, not the norm!


Known for their diminutive size and amazing flying skills, hummingbirds are another group of birds that rarely sit for extended periods. Here’s a closer look at why hummingbirds tend to avoid sitting:

  • Like swifts, hummingbirds have evolved for specialized flight. Their wings beat up to 80 times per second, allowing them to hover and fly backwards.
  • Hummingbirds have a very high metabolism. To conserve energy, they prefer to perch rather than sit flat on a surface.
  • When resting, hummingbirds go into a sort of sleep state called torpor where their metabolism slows. This allows them to conserve energy overnight.
  • To feed, hummingbirds prefer to hover near flowers and sip nectar while airborne rather than land on a perch or sitting spot.
  • Hummingbirds sometimes briefly perch between feeding sessions but rarely sit for long periods the way some other birds do.


In conclusion, most birds do sit or perch in a variety of positions. Their anatomy allows them to easily grasp onto branches and wires with their feet and balance with their tails. Smaller birds like songbirds perch with thinner legs bent, while larger birds can squat or lie down with thicker legs.

Birds mainly sit to rest and conserve energy, nest, roost at night, or soak up sunshine. However, there are a couple exceptions like swifts and hummingbirds that hardly ever perch and stay continually in flight.

So next time you spot a bird sitting still, take a moment to observe how it’s perching. Understanding bird behavior and capabilities can help us support their habitats and appreciate the biodiversity around us.

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