Scientists figure out how flamingos stay steady on one leg

Flamingos are attention-getting birds for many reasons, one being their truly impressive ability to stand on one leg and even catch some Z's while doing so.

How they do it has long been a mystery to science, but, thanks to researchers from Emory University and Georgia Tech, the days of wondering are behind us.

It turns out, flamingo bodies are built in a way that is in complete harmony with gravity. When one leg is lifted, the other automatically repositions its joints and aligns beneath the body in the exact way that allows for perfect balance.

The team initially attempted to discover this by observing live birds housed at Zoo Atlanta.

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Pakistani residents gather around elephant Kaavan at the Marghazar Zoo on the Eid holidays in Islamabad on July 7, 2016. / AFP / FAROOQ NAEEM (Photo credit should read FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images)
This photograph taken on June 30, 2016, shows Pakistani elephant Kaavan being fed at the Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad. Pakistan's lonely elephant Kaavan is suffering from 'mental illness', experts told AFP, saying that without a better habitat his future is bleak even if a long-promised new mate finally arrives. The 32-year-old Asian elephant has been the subject of a high-profile rights campaign backed by US singer Cher, who voiced outrage after it emerged Kaavan was being chained at the Islamabad Zoo in Pakistan's leafy capital. / AFP / AAMIR QURESHI / TO GO WITH AFP STORY: Pakistan-wildlife-elephant, FOCUS by Nasir JAFFRY (Photo credit should read AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images)
This photograph taken on June 30, 2016, shows Pakistani elephant Kaavan at the Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad. Pakistan's lonely elephant Kaavan is suffering from 'mental illness', experts told AFP, saying that without a better habitat his future is bleak even if a long-promised new mate finally arrives. The 32-year-old Asian elephant has been the subject of a high-profile rights campaign backed by US singer Cher, who voiced outrage after it emerged Kaavan was being chained at the Islamabad Zoo in Pakistan's leafy capital. / AFP / AAMIR QURESHI / TO GO WITH AFP STORY: Pakistan-wildlife-elephant, FOCUS by Nasir JAFFRY (Photo credit should read AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images)
Pakistani residents gather around elephant Kaavan at the Marghazar Zoo on the Eid holidays in Islamabad on July 7, 2016. / AFP / FAROOQ NAEEM (Photo credit should read FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images)
This photograph taken on June 30, 2016, shows an Pakistani elephant caretaker with the elephant known as Kaavan at the Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad. Pakistan's lonely elephant Kaavan is suffering from 'mental illness', experts told AFP, saying that without a better habitat his future is bleak even if a long-promised new mate finally arrives. The 32-year-old Asian elephant has been the subject of a high-profile rights campaign backed by US singer Cher, who voiced outrage after it emerged Kaavan was being chained at the Islamabad Zoo in Pakistan's leafy capital. / AFP / AAMIR QURESHI / TO GO WITH AFP STORY: Pakistan-wildlife-elephant, FOCUS by Nasir JAFFRY (Photo credit should read AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images)
This photograph taken on June 30, 2016, shows Pakistani elephant Kaavan at the Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad. Pakistan's lonely elephant Kaavan is suffering from 'mental illness', experts told AFP, saying that without a better habitat his future is bleak even if a long-promised new mate finally arrives. The 32-year-old Asian elephant has been the subject of a high-profile rights campaign backed by US singer Cher, who voiced outrage after it emerged Kaavan was being chained at the Islamabad Zoo in Pakistan's leafy capital. / AFP / AAMIR QURESHI / TO GO WITH AFP STORY: Pakistan-wildlife-elephant, FOCUS by Nasir JAFFRY (Photo credit should read AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images)
This photograph taken on June 30, 2016, shows a visitor taking a selfie next to Pakistani elephant Kaavan at the Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad. Pakistan's lonely elephant Kaavan is suffering from 'mental illness', experts told AFP, saying that without a better habitat his future is bleak even if a long-promised new mate finally arrives. The 32-year-old Asian elephant has been the subject of a high-profile rights campaign backed by US singer Cher, who voiced outrage after it emerged Kaavan was being chained at the Islamabad Zoo in Pakistan's leafy capital. / AFP / AAMIR QURESHI / TO GO WITH AFP STORY: Pakistan-wildlife-elephant, FOCUS by Nasir JAFFRY (Photo credit should read AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images)
This photograph taken on June 30, 2016, shows Pakistani elephant Kaavan at the Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad. Pakistan's lonely elephant Kaavan is suffering from 'mental illness', experts told AFP, saying that without a better habitat his future is bleak even if a long-promised new mate finally arrives. The 32-year-old Asian elephant has been the subject of a high-profile rights campaign backed by US singer Cher, who voiced outrage after it emerged Kaavan was being chained at the Islamabad Zoo in Pakistan's leafy capital. / AFP / AAMIR QURESHI / TO GO WITH AFP STORY: Pakistan-wildlife-elephant, FOCUS by Nasir JAFFRY (Photo credit should read AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images)
This photograph taken on June 30, 2016, shows an Pakistani elephant caretaker in a moat at an enclosure with the elephant known as Kaavan at the Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad. Pakistan's lonely elephant Kaavan is suffering from 'mental illness', experts told AFP, saying that without a better habitat his future is bleak even if a long-promised new mate finally arrives. The 32-year-old Asian elephant has been the subject of a high-profile rights campaign backed by US singer Cher, who voiced outrage after it emerged Kaavan was being chained at the Islamabad Zoo in Pakistan's leafy capital. / AFP / AAMIR QURESHI / TO GO WITH AFP STORY: Pakistan-wildlife-elephant, FOCUS by Nasir JAFFRY (Photo credit should read AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images)
This photograph taken on June 30, 2016, shows Pakistani elephant Kaavan at the Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad. Pakistan's lonely elephant Kaavan is suffering from 'mental illness', experts told AFP, saying that without a better habitat his future is bleak even if a long-promised new mate finally arrives. The 32-year-old Asian elephant has been the subject of a high-profile rights campaign backed by US singer Cher, who voiced outrage after it emerged Kaavan was being chained at the Islamabad Zoo in Pakistan's leafy capital. / AFP / AAMIR QURESHI / TO GO WITH AFP STORY: Pakistan-wildlife-elephant, FOCUS by Nasir JAFFRY (Photo credit should read AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images)
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That approach ran into a bit of a brick wall. Young-Hui Chang, one of the researchers, explained, "We really wanted to do an experiment where we just walked over and gave them a little prod. But the zoo wouldn't let us."

The team then shifted its focus to flamingo cadavers. While examining one lying on a table they were unable to glean any significant information about how the single-leg pose provides the astounding stability it does.

However, when one of the team members grasped the cadaver's shin and repositioned the bird upright, all of the joints instantly snapped into place, providing a stable base for the bird.

The question that remains is why the single-leg pose is often preferable, particularly while sleeping.

It is suggested that it may use less of the body's energy, but that theory does raise the question of why flamingos don't take greater advantage of that benefit and stand on one leg all time.

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