birding, birds with orange legs, birdwatching, British birds, Goosander, Mallard, Redshank, Turnstone
As a follow up to yesterday’s post about our local Redshanks, I thought I’d write about those legs, which, to my eye, are orange not red. A few months ago, I wondered aloud on social media why so many birds have such bright orange legs and was informed that, on a recent episode of the BBC’s Winterwatch television programme (I don’t have a tv so didn’t see it), it had been suggested that orange-coloured legs ‘are effective in disturbing benthic creatures when feeding/stirring the sediment’.
Another idea suggested on the Canadian Science.ca website is that ‘bright orange feet may reveal that the male is good at foraging (carotene comes in the diet)’, though the writer of that article also acknowledged that there may be several other factors at play, and that scientists don’t actually know the answer to the fascinating ‘why orange feet?’ question. So, if you have your own theories, or verified scientific knowledge, please do share in the comments.
“I thought I’d write about those legs, which, to my eye, are orange not red.”
They are to my eye, too.
For what it’s worth, the earliest recorded use of the name “redshanks” was in 1527 (in the “Household and Privy Purse Accounts of the Lestranges of Hunstanton”. It’s on p.487 of https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=MFpEAAAAcAAJ&pg=GBS.PA474&hl=en_GB ).
But the first recorded use of the word “orange” as a colour wasn’t until 1557 (in “Great Britain Statutes at Large”).
So, they didn’t have a word for the colour orange until c.30 years after the bird was named for the colour of its legs, so they just used “red”.
It’s the same with “redbreast”, which dates back to at least 1425 — well over a century before orange was used to describe the colour. But, like the redshank’s legs, the robin’s chest is far more orange than red.
(Dates and references from the online OED.)
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Sorry for the delayed response. Superb information, Jon. Thanks so much for sharing. I began following links about colour and the names of colours and disappeared down a rabbit hole for almost an hour! 😉
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