Proportional to their size, do pigeons have the smallest legs of any bird?

  • $\begingroup$ What measure do you want to use for size? There are likely different answers depending. $\endgroup$ – kmm Aug 2 '17 at 0:53

Here's data on body mass and limb length for 163 species of birds (including pigeon):


The information you really want is the ratio of the two. The shortest legs per mass are not quite all flightless birds:

                             Common Name   Hind   Mass Leg_per_kg
1                                Ostrich 1256.7 94.210   13.33935
2                           King Penguin  326.2 13.650   23.89744
3                                    Emu 1036.1 40.670   25.47578
4                           Whooper Swan  405.0 10.675   37.93911
5                       Macaroni Penguin  197.7  4.819   41.02511

whereas the longest legs per mass are:

159            Yellow-Bellied Flycatcher   51.3  0.011 4663.63636
160                   Common Treecreeper   41.8  0.008 5225.00000
161                 Whiskered Flycatcher   51.2  0.008 6400.00000
162        Southern Beardless Tyrannulet   47.5  0.007 6785.71429
163            Ruby-Throated Hummingbird   21.8  0.003 7266.66667

The pigeon falls somewhere near the middle:

106                        Scaled Pigeon  108.7  0.260  418.07692

Swifts are actually down near the bottom:

153                        Chimney Swift   49.9  0.023 2169.56522

While they do have tiny legs, they are actually quite long for their body mass.

Of course if you chose a different measure of size, then these relative numbers would be all different.

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  • $\begingroup$ Length per kg in my opinion is a really really bad measure. In general, body length increases with the cube of mass. This measure just tells you the biggest bird. Pretty obvious if you look at the leg length of on ostrich - those are long legs, almost half the height of the bird, even when including a very long neck. That doesn't seem to be at all what OP was asking for. $\endgroup$ – Bryan Krause Aug 2 '17 at 6:41
  • $\begingroup$ Technically it's exactly what the OP asked for ("proportional to their size ...") but I agree it's probably not what they actually wanted to know. I upvoted for the interesting chart, but was tempted to downvote again because there's no reference. Where do the data come from? $\endgroup$ – iayork Aug 2 '17 at 12:06
  • $\begingroup$ @iayork I collected the data from the Museum of Comparative Zoology (Cambridge, MA). $\endgroup$ – kmm Aug 2 '17 at 13:50
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    $\begingroup$ @BryanKrause Agreed, which is why I said that if you picked a different measure of size, you would get different results. I can think of good reasons not to pick any of the other obvious possibilities: wing length (penguins, ratites), trunk length (penguins, loons), mean vertebral length (swans, geese, herons, etc.), synsacrum breadth (Anseriformes). So given the tradeoffs of picking any proxy for size, mass is as good or as bad as any other, as long as you interpret the results in that context. $\endgroup$ – kmm Aug 2 '17 at 13:55

That achievement probably belongs to the Swifts, specifically known for their short legs. Their name Apodidae derives from the word for "footless" in Greek.

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    $\begingroup$ "absolute shortest legs: virtually non-existent in swifts (Apodidae)" $\endgroup$ – user22020 Aug 2 '17 at 0:31

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