Anatomy: Right-handed?

White-winged crossbill (photo by Raymond Barlow)

Scientists who study birds’ brains long ago discovered that, just like humans, birds can be right-handed or left-handed.

In humans, dominance on the left side of the brain results in right-handedness and vice versa.  Birds’ brains have functional lateralism too and can show behavior that indicates they favor one “hand” over the other.

An easy way to tell this is on birds whose eyes face sideways instead of straight forward (robins, pigeons, etc.) because they obviously use one eye or the other for important tasks.  What eye do they use to scan for predators?  In 2001, Franklin and Lima found that most dark-eyed juncos use their right eyes.

Crossbills take “handedness” one step further.  Their bills cross either to the right or the left.  Then they walk around the pine cones on which they feed in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction depending on the “handedness” expressed in their bills.

So, what do you think?  Is this crossbill right-handed or left-handed?

(photo of a white-winged crossbill by Raymond Barlow. Inspiration and information from Ornithology by Frank B. Gill)

4 thoughts on “Anatomy: Right-handed?

  1. I would say that because the top bill is crossing over to the left side of this pretty bird that it is left-handed like I am.

  2. I would think that with its bill crossed in that direction, a pine cone still on the tree would be more accessible going clockwise as opposed to counter-clockwise. I don’t know if that would make him left-handed, but that would be my guess as well. And that’s not just because I, too, am a lefty. 😉

  3. I looked up this page because I noticed that when I approached birds on the side of the road whilst I was driving (in Australia – lhs of the road) that birds, in particular crows, launched into the air partially sideways but to the right almost everytime even when that direction placed them more in danger of my oncoming vehicle…so I was wondering if this was typical with all species of bird?

    1. Fascinating, Lee! I never noticed that. I’m going to start watching the direction the birds choose when they fly up.

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