The African Finfoot (Podica senegalensis) is an aquatic bird inhabiting the rivers and lakes of western, central, and southern Africa.
The African Finfoot is an underwater specialist with a long neck, a striking sharp beak, and bright red, lobed feet. The plumage varies by race, generally pale underneath and darker on top. The males are usually darker than the females. It resembles greatly South America's Torrent Duck, a clear example of convergent evolution.
Habits and Range
The African Finfoot can be found in a range of habitats across Africa, where there are rivers, streams and lakes with good cover on the banks. This range includes forest, wooded savannah, flooded forest, and even mangrove swamps.
The finfoot feeds on underwater invertebrates including both adults and larval mayflies, dragonflies, crustaceans, and on snails, fish and amphibians. Finfoots are thought to be highly opportunistic, and take some of their prey directly off the water's surface. They are adept out of water (unlike their Sungrebe relative's namesakes, the grebes) and forage on the banks as well.
Finfoots are usually seen singly or in pairs. They are very secretive; even experienced ornithologists see them very rarely (making them a prized sighting for birders and twitchers). Because they are so elusive it is not known if they spend most of their time in the water (where they are almost always seen) or on land.
Their time of breeding varies by area, usually coinciding with the rainy season. They build a nest, nothing more than a mess of twigs and reeds, on a fallen tree above the water. Two eggs are laid and incubated solely by the female. The chicks leave the nest a few days after hatching.
The African Finfoot belongs to a family whose only other members are the Masked Finfoot and the Sungrebe. Their relationships to other birds are poorly understood.
Status and Conservation
The African Finfoot's conservation status is hard to determine, given its elusive nature. It is not considered threatened, as it is not persecuted or targeted by hunters, and while scarce, it is very widespread. However, there is concern that it may become threatened, as wetlands are cleared and watercourses altered and polluted. It is also thought to tolerate only minimal disturbance. This and increased habitat fragmentation mean that the species needs to be monitored to safeguard it. There are currently no African Finfoots in captivity.