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Ornithopus perpusillus

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Fabaceae (Pea)
Also in this family:
Alpine Milk-vetch, Alsike Clover, Birdsfoot Clover, Bird's-foot Trefoil, Bithynian Vetch, Bitter Vetch, Black Broom, Black Medick, Bladder Senna, Broad Bean, Broad-leaved Everlasting Pea, Bur Medick, Burrowing Clover, Bush Vetch, Clustered Clover, Common Broom, Common Gorse, Common Laburnum, Common Restharrow, Common Vetch, Crimson Clover, Crown Vetch, Dragon's Teeth, Dwarf Gorse, Dyer's Greenweed, False Acacia, Fine-leaved Vetch, Fodder Vetch, Garden Lupin, Garden Pea, Goat's Rue, Grass Vetchling, Greater Bird's-foot Trefoil, Hairy Bird's-foot Trefoil, Hairy Greenweed, Hairy Tare, Hairy Vetchling, Hairy-fruited Broom, Haresfoot Clover, Hop Trefoil, Horseshoe Vetch, Hungarian Vetch, Kidney Vetch, Knotted Clover, Large Trefoil, Lesser Trefoil, Lucerne, Marsh Pea, Meadow Vetchling, Narrow-leaved Bird's-foot Trefoil, Narrow-leaved Everlasting Pea, Narrow-leaved Vetch, Nootka Lupin, Norfolk Everlasting Pea, Orange Birdsfoot, Petty Whin, Purple Milk-vetch, Purple Oxytropis, Red Clover, Reversed Clover, Ribbed Melilot, Rough Clover, Russell Lupin, Sainfoin, Scorpion Senna, Scottish Laburnum, Sea Clover, Sea Pea, Sickle Medick, Slender Bird's-foot Trefoil, Slender Tare, Slender Trefoil, Small Melilot, Small Restharrow, Smooth Tare, Spanish Broom, Spanish Gorse, Spiny Restharrow, Spotted Medick, Spring Vetch, Strawberry Clover, Suffocated Clover, Sulphur Clover, Tall Melilot, Toothed Medick, Tree Lupin, Tuberous Pea, Tufted Vetch, Twin-headed Clover, Two-flowered Everlasting Pea, Upright Clover, Upright Vetch, Western Clover, Western Gorse, White Broom, White Clover, White Lupin, White Melilot, Wild Liquorice, Wood Vetch, Yellow Oxytropis, Yellow Vetch, Yellow Vetchling, Zigzag Clover
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
30 centimetres tall
Fields, grassland, heathland, rocky places, sand dunes, wasteland.

Variable in colour, 5 petals
Pale pink with darker pink streaks. The wings of the flowers are white and the keels are yellow.
Curved, beaded, roundish and hairless seedpods with up to 9 segments. When 2 or 3 of the seedpods are together the seedpods resemble birds feet which is where Birdsfoot gets its name from.
An sprawling annual flower with 7 to 13 pairs of oblong leaflets per leaf.
Other Names:
Bird's-foot, Common Birdsfoot, Little White Bird's-foot, Small Bird's-foot Deervetch, Small Bird's-foot Trefoil.
Frequency (UK):

Similar Species

Other Information


Ornithopus perpusillus, also known as small bird's-foot trefoil or small bird's-foot deervetch, is a perennial herb native to Europe and Asia. It is a member of the Fabaceae family and is closely related to plants such as clovers and beans. Small bird's-foot trefoil is characterized by its small, pea-like flowers and compound leaves that resemble the toes of a bird's foot. It is a herbaceous plant that grows in a variety of habitats, including grasslands, meadows, and pastures. Small bird's-foot trefoil is valued as a forage crop for livestock and is often used as a cover crop due to its ability to fix nitrogen in the soil. It is also sometimes grown as an ornamental plant due to its attractive flowers and long bloom period.


Birdsfoot (Ornithopus perpusillus) is a unique and endangered wildflower found in parts of Europe and North Africa. It is a member of the pea family and gets its name from its distinctive seed pods that resemble the feet of a bird. The flowers of Birdsfoot are small and yellow, but it is the seed pods that make it stand out from other wildflowers.

The habitats of Birdsfoot are limited to coastal grasslands, sand dunes and cliffs. It is adapted to grow in soil with low fertility and can withstand harsh conditions such as drought and high winds. However, it is also highly vulnerable to changes in its environment and is considered endangered due to the loss of its natural habitats due to human activities such as urbanization, agriculture and coastal development.

One of the interesting features of Birdsfoot is that it has a symbiotic relationship with certain species of nitrogen-fixing bacteria. These bacteria convert nitrogen gas in the air into a form that can be used by the plant, which helps it grow in poor soil conditions. This relationship is important for maintaining the health of the plant and preserving its habitats.

Birdsfoot has a long history of use in traditional medicine, particularly in the Mediterranean region. Its leaves and seeds have been used to treat various ailments, including respiratory problems and digestive disorders. Its leaves are also believed to have anti-inflammatory properties and have been used to soothe skin irritations.

In addition to its medicinal properties, Birdsfoot is also of great interest to botanists and ecologists due to its unique biology and ecology. For example, the species is known for its strong association with nitrogen-fixing bacteria, which makes it an important contributor to the nitrogen cycling of the ecosystems in which it grows.

Another interesting aspect of Birdsfoot is its reproductive biology. Like many other members of the pea family, Birdsfoot is capable of self-fertilization, but it also has a high degree of cross-fertilization with other plants in its population. This diversity of reproductive strategies helps to ensure the survival and adaptability of the species in changing environments.

Despite its ecological importance, Birdsfoot is facing numerous threats to its survival. The loss of its natural habitats due to coastal development and the conversion of grasslands to agriculture are two of the biggest threats to the species. Climate change and the introduction of non-native species also pose a significant risk to its survival.

Given its rarity and the threats to its survival, it is important that conservation measures are put in place to protect Birdsfoot and its habitats. These measures could include the establishment of protected areas, the restoration of degraded habitats, and the implementation of sustainable land-use practices in the areas where the species occurs.

Additionally, public education and awareness programs can play an important role in the conservation of Birdsfoot. By increasing awareness of the species and its importance, we can encourage more people to get involved in conservation efforts and to support the protection of its habitats. This could include volunteer activities such as monitoring populations, removing invasive species, and restoring degraded habitats.

For those interested in supporting Birdsfoot conservation, there are also opportunities to donate to organizations that are working to protect the species and its habitats. Supporting such organizations can help to fund research, conservation projects, and educational programs that can make a real difference for Birdsfoot and other endangered species.

Finally, it is also important to support sustainable land-use practices in the areas where Birdsfoot occurs. This could involve supporting agriculture and coastal development practices that minimize harm to the environment and take into account the needs of the species and other wildlife. By making sustainable choices and supporting conservation efforts, we can help to ensure the long-term survival of Birdsfoot and its habitats.

In conclusion, Birdsfoot is a fascinating and valuable species that deserves our attention and protection. Through a combination of conservation efforts, public education, and sustainable land-use practices, we can help to ensure the survival of this unique and endangered wildflower for future generations.


Birdsfoot filmed at St. Michael's Church in Aughton, Lancashire on the 20th May 2023.


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Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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