Why are so many of the birds around here missing all of their toes? I guess they don't really need them much; they seem to hobble around just as well without them. But still. Where do the toes go?

Is there some Clive-Barkerian bird horror collecting great heaping baskets of lizardy toes? Do birds chirp legends about this scissorman to their eggs?

If you cut off one of my toes (and I didn't have opposable thumbs to do something about it) wouldn't I bleed out?

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40 Responses:

  1. ivorjawa says:

    The googles suggest bumblefoot.

    • jwz says:

      No. The toes are gone.

      • bdu says:

        was it clearly due to trauma, or might it be a widespread genetic defect in the local population?

      • ivorjawa says:

        The googles also suggest strings, although I think the author of that page has a bit more empathy for disease-ridden air rats than I'm comfortable with.

        (Are you sure there's no way to fix the generator?)

      • spider88 says:

        Bumblefoot can lead to toe loss.

        Also, getting toes tangled in string, wire, plastic, etc cuts off circulation and causes loss of toes without bleeding out.

  2. movingfinger says:

    I've been told it is a fungal infection, but apparently it can have several causes: staph, a vitamin deficiency, infections following injuries, and more.

    I suppose if the atrophy and gangrene (or whatever) is slow, blood supply to the diseased or damaged tissue shuts down before it's lost and the bird does not bleed to death.

  3. baconmonkey says:

    I always assumed it was due to encounters with all those sharp and pointy bird-landing countermeasures on every flat surface in the city.

  4. latemodel says:

    A human losing a toe would most likely not bleed out. Q.v. our close relative, the macaque: some substantial portion of wild macaques are missing digits.

    As for birds, the circulation in their feet is notoriously poor when compared to humans. This can lead to problems, because injuries to the leg do not heal readily. I can imagine that an injury to one toe could lead to necrosis of the whole thing.

    • pete23 says:

      some substantial portion of wild macaques are missing digits

      I fear that this is my "new thing" from the "you learn something new every day" trope. Let's see how many times it can conveniently come up in conversation...

    • lafinjack says:

      My... digits!!!

  5. carbonunit says:

    I sometimes see birds of all kinds flying around with fishing line tangled around their feet, so I think this has something to do with it.

    As for bleeding out, birds have very little meat in their claws, the muscles are all up in their legs, so the blood supply is probably pretty limited.

  6. My sister's parakeet got its foot caught in the cage and fucked it up to the point of it not working. It then proceeded to eat it off because it was useless. I always assumed it was similar to the pigeons lack of feet.

  7. whohou says:

    If it's getting cold over there, they might've been bitten off by Mr. Frosty. (..Perching on cold conductive metal bars all day long, getting ignorantly de-toed due to that, etc.) And if they bleed, cold probably wouldn't accelerate any bleeding, either.

  8. belgand says:

    Mutilating birds is the new hip trend. Swing by Ritual and you'll totally hear people talking about removing pigeon toes.

  9. mc_kingfish says:

    Maybe one of their best bird-friends *dis'd* their bird Halloween party on teh interwebs and the poor bird's toes fell off because they were so _saaaaad_.

    Huh! Bet ya never thought about _that_.


    • jwz says:

      Hey grampa, are you aware that you're getting all worked up over a heavily filtered post -- and doing so in comments to an unfiltered post?

      Just sayin'...

  10. chuck_lw says:

    After about a decade of not really paying attention to the pigeons since I moved to Denver, I finally noticed the missing toes a few years ago.

    Since then, I've made a point of looking at pigeon feet -- call it morbid curiosity -- and now it seems the missing toe problem has mysterious gone away.

    Now I'm wondering why the toes have come back.

  11. soupkills says:

    With no attribution or data to confirm this, I was told by a friend that in NYC at least, rats will chew off pigeon toes. They clamp on and don't let go until they're all the way through.

  12. terpsichoros says:

    Aside from poor circulation, I'd suspect that the kind of injury which would cause digit loss would probably crush the flesh at the cut point, rather than cutting it cleanly. That would inhibit bleeding from the injury. Also, the arteries feeding such a small body part are probably fairly small and easy to block or choke off.

  13. nightrider says:

    According to my sources (who of course, can not be revealed under penalty of be-toeing,) it has come to my attention that the following item is majorly responsible for the loss of pigeon toes/feet in metropolitan areas:

    Chewing gum.

    Yes, good ol' fashioned chewing gum.
    The series of events often goes like so,

    • Pigeon sees irresistible, round, tasty object sitting on sidewalk
    • Pigeon closely inspects & smells object
    • Object has a pleasant fruity/minty smell
    • Pigeon deduces "Food! This must be FOOD!"
    • Pigeon beak comes in contact with tasty object...
    • Pigeon discovers chewing gum not meant for pigeon.
    • Pigeon attempts to shake off chewing gum that has now affixed itself to pigeon beak (to no avail.)
    • Pigeon decides pulling gum off face with foot to be next best option to head shaking.
    • Pigeon foot removes gum.
    • Gum now firmly attaches self to pigeon foot.
    • Pigeon toes become embedded in gum.
    • Gum eventually hardens and becomes sold pigeon-toe mummifying mass.
    • Pigeon toes now constricted, they eventually lose any of the nominal circulation they had prior to being encased in carbonit... err... GUM and said toes die.
    • Pigeon eventually wears toes off from walking on gum clod or from self-mutilation.
    • EOF
    • baconmonkey says:

      that was a running gag in warner and tom & Jerry cartoons. I've never noticed a gum-footed pigeon.

    • violentbloom says:

      I've seen a lot of birds in downtown SF with gum. I always wondered how much it bugged them. Also I think it happens more on hot days when it's stickier, and then when it's colder it hardens and hobbles the poor birdies.
      I fully agree this is the cause of the missing toes. (or should that is the case of the missing toes?)

      We got lots of birds here in the woods. No missing toes. And no gum on their toes.

      Maybe a bird feeder with gum on it and a video camera could track the progression for scientific verification?

    • pikuorguk says:

      Self mutilation?

      So ... right ... pigeons are Emo?

  14. pygmalion says:

    I watched one of those local PBS shows once on how the deformities in pigeons are caused by poluted water. They drink from the gutters which contain motor oil, anti-freeze, and all other sorts of fun chemicals. This causes not only sickly diseases in the pigeon, but birth defects in the offspring. The lack of toes often on just one foot being a very common one, as well as gimpy legs.

  15. mysterc says:

    Check the windows of the markets in Chinatown. It always seems like there are a lot more "Chicken feet" on display than there are other chicken pieces... I'm just sayin

    If you cut your toes off your arteries would retract and the surrounding muscles would clamp down in order to stem the slow of blood and prevent you from bleeding out. This would leave your opposable thumbs free for more important things like properly holding a cocktail glass.

  16. krick says:

    I went to high school with a girl who had a bunch of birds (either chickens or turkeys, I can't remember clearly) at her house/farm with no feet at all. It seems that they all stood in water and went to sleep one night in the winter. The temperature dropped very fast and very low that night, the water froze, and their feet snapped off. It was very disturbing to see them running around on stumps.

  17. cattycritic says:

    I've noticed this for years too, and wondered what caused it. I've seen it also on blackbirds. What I've also noticed is that in areas where there aren't so many birds, and lots of food, you don't see these missing toes and feet.

    One odd thing was, the birds around the Target in Cupertino all had these foot problems, whereas just down the street, the birds that hung out around the Whole Foods didn't, and looked much healthier also in terms of weight, feather neatness and feather gloss.

  18. keimel says:

    I've seen toes amputated in an accident and they did not, surprisingly, bleed excessively.

  19. bitpuddle says:

    Yea; here in NYC, too. Lots of pigeons with little stump-feet. Why is that?

    • lifelike001 says:

      here in melbourne too! it must be a universal pigeon-pedicure phenomenon. you watch them at the train station, some of them are down to stumps. just little twiggy leg stumps and no feet at all O_O

  20. sheilagh says:

    little velcro grooming stations, sort of like how this cat groomer works: