Masked Finfoot’s feet

The recent sighting of the Masked Finfoot (Heliopais personata) in Singapore has generated numerous of images, mostly portrait shots but there are behaviour shots as well.

The Masked Finfoot is adapted for an aquatic habitat but this does not mean that it is clumsy on land. On land it can run fast and even clamber into trees, moving around the branches with agility. This is made possible by the feet that are not fully webbed. Like in coots and grebes, the feet are lobed. This enables the finfoot to propel itself in water, yet do not encumber them on land. And also allows it to move into trees, not an easy task should the feet be fully webbed.

So far, two photographers, Dr Eric Tan (above) and Calvin Chang (below) have managed to capture images of the finfoot’s feet. The legs and feet are bright pea green and yellow. This is also the case with the two other species: the African Finfoot (Podica senegalensis) has bright yellow or salmon red legs and feet while the Sungrebe (Heliornis fulica) has yellow feet and black banded and striped legs.

As the coloured legs and feet do not have a role in courtship or other behavioural displays, it has been speculated that such colours may help deter some underwater predators from attacking the finfoot while it is in the water. After all, yellow-and-black-stripes is classic warning colour combination in nature as seen in wasps, snakes and caterpillars.

Images by Dr Eric Tan (top) and Calvin Chang (bottom)

Bertram, B. C. R., 1996. Family Heliornithidae (Finfoots). In del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott & J. Sargatal (eds.), Handbook of the birds of the world. Vol. 3. Hoatzin to Auks. Lynx Editions, Barcelona. Pp. 210-217.

This post is a cooperative effort between and BESG to bring the study of bird behaviour through photography to a wider audience.


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