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Quick question: why do flamingos stand on one leg? Hank explains as quickly as he can!

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Hello and welcome to our first installment of a new show here on SciShow, Quick Questions, where we take one minute of your life to make you smarter by answering questions posed by SciShow viewers, our Subbable subscribers, and just anyone else out there on the internet who is looking for answers.

For instance, why do flamingos stand on one leg? It may sound like some kind of an animal cliche or even a misconception, like the belief that ostriches stick their heads in the sand. But lo, it turns out that flamingos not only really do support themselves on this single leg much of the time as do many other birds, but the behavior is peculiar enough that scientists have struggled to explain it.

There are a bunch of different theories. One of which is that the birds are simply resting one of their legs, so they're more limber and can get a running start if a predator approaches. However, a study of captive flamingos at the Philadelphia Zoo in 2009 found that flamingos resting on one leg were actually slower to get started from a standstill than the birds that were standing on two, so scientists kept observing in the hopes of finding more clues. Finding, for example, that it's done by both males and females, that the birds don't show a preference for standing on one leg or the other.

But they did discover that flamingos are significantly more likely to stand on one leg when they're standing in water than when they're standing on land, and the behavior was much more common in cold weather than in warm. So the prevailing theory is that flamingos stand on one leg to regulate their body temperature. Even in tropical climates, where flamingos naturally live, water wicks away much more body heat than air, so limiting the amount of body mass that's underwater can help the birds stay warm and conserve energy. It's kind of like they're just taking one leg and just kind of stuffing it up into their warm, cozy, fuzzy body feathers, like they're sticking it in their pocket up there. It's cute.

So thanks for asking, internet, and thanks especially to all of our Subbable subscribers who make this and everything you see on SciShow possible. How'd you like an official SciShow chocolate bar? One of our patented pocket protectors, which isn't actually patented?  To find out how you can get one of these or other awesome perks, go to And if you have a Quick Question you'd like us to answer, just let us know. You can find us on Facebook and Twitter and, as always, in the comments below. Don't forget to go to and subscribe.