Pacific Reef Egret: Foot tapping

“On the morning of 25th January 2011, I was delighted to observe a Pacific Reef Egret (Egretta sacra, dark morph) perched on the railings along the Telok Kurau canal (above left). It was patiently watching and waiting for the receding tide, with eager anticipation of breakfast. Looking back, it has been almost three years since I first noticed a solo Pacific Reef Egret fishing along this concrete ‘river’ on the 15th February 2008, and my instinct seems to tell me that this might be the very same bird that I’m witnessing.

“When it finally swooped down to get its feet wet in the shallow waters, I carefully stalked the bird with my camera as it silently stalked its aquatic prey (above right). However, I was intrigued to see that it frequently employed the ‘foot tapping’ technique while hunting. This strategy was predominantly practiced at accumulations of submerged leaves, whereby one foot is inserted into/under this leaf pile and tapped repeatedly in quick succession to expose any fish or crustacean that may be hiding therein.

“On a number of occasions, I have previously observed this foot tapping behaviour in Little Egrets (Egretta garzetta) along the same canal at low tide, with much hunting success (left). Hence, I wondered if such a foraging behaviour could have been progressively learnt by the Pacific Reef Egret, as both species regularly share the same waterway. Nevertheless, I always find this foot tapping behaviour amusing to watch, as it brings to mind the catchy instrumental, ‘Foot Tapper’ (released by The Shadows in 1963). Alternatively, it might also be appropriate to term this behaviour as the ‘Riverdance’.”

Dr Leong Tzi Ming
25th January 2011

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