Birds – The Finfeet

The last of the families of Crane-like birds remaining to be considered comprises the anomalous Finfeet, or Sun Grebes, which have been bandied from place to place in the system, finding successively a resting place near the Grebes, the Rails, and the Cranes, and their geographical distribution is as hard to interpret as their structure, for of the three genera and five species, one is found in Central and South America, three in Africa, and the last in eastern Asia. They are small or medium-sized birds, none of them exceeding two feet in length, while one, the American form, is but half this size. They have rather short legs, the toes with scalloped, lateral webs much as in the Grebes, a relatively long and slender neck, and a moderately long bill. Their plumage is dense and close-set, and their general appearance is described as like that of a diving Rail. It is not necessary to enumerate the structural peculiarities. Their nests and eggs are unknown, and information concerning their habits is meagre in the extreme.

The American Finfoot (Heliornis fulica) is a uniform olive-brown above and mainly white below, with the wings and tail brown, the latter edged with white, and the crown glossy blue-black, with the sides of the head streaked with brown and white. The bill is bright red and the toes clear yellow, crossed with bands of black. They frequent shadowy and quiet rivers, and feed upon fish, aquatic insects, and various seeds. They are said “to sit for hours on a branch overhanging the water and half submerged, but diving is only resorted to in danger or when wounded.” The voice when heard from a distance is said to resemble the barking of a small dog. The young, reported to be two in number, are said to be “hatched naked and carried about by the old bird,” but obviously this requires confirmation.

Peter’s Finfoot (Podica petersi) of South Africa is dark brown above, rather indistinctly spotted with ochreous on the back, and has the sides of the face and neck gray, and the lower parts mainly white. The upper mandible is black with red margins and the lower mandible red with black margins, while the legs and feet are bright red. This bird is rare and very shy and, according to Ayres, “it frequents the rocky streams of the interior of the country; can scarcely rise from the water, and generally flies along the surface, aiding itself with its feet, which are lobed; when disturbed it hides under a bank like the Moor-hen in England. It feeds on fresh-water shrimps and small fish.”

The other species of this genus are found in West Africa and the Cameroons respectively. Of the Asiatic species (Heliornis personata) comparatively little is known.