Readers reply: why do some birds’ heads not rock forwards and backwards when they walk?

The long-running series in which readers answer other readers’ questions on subjects ranging from trivial flights of fancy to profound scientific and philosophical concepts

It’s all down to good breeding and deportment. GodlessHeathens

If you believe pigeons are the most severe example of this behaviour, try chickens. They crane, rotate, jerk and generally goof their necks around even when not walking. I always understood that this is because birds have eyes facing different directions, and so can’t take advantage of the differential we use for depth perception. As keen predators, chickens have to make significant snap judgments about the speed and distance of a target (be it insect, mouse, lizard or indeed something wholly inappropriate such as the neighbour’s cat). Pigeons are not predators, but neither are they ground birds as our modern pests are descended from rock pigeons, so who knows. I would put geese alongside your ducks in birds that don’t jerk as they walk. In my experience, they are usually too busy craning their necks forward and hissing at my ankles. However, they are both grazers or water feeders, so maybe that is it. A parrot will sit on a branch and crane from side to side. Birds are bizarre, and you should not question their motives, lest they destroy you. Lewis Barton

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