The Masked Finfoot, (Heliopais personata), is an aquatic bird from the fresh and brackish wetlands of southeastern Asia, Indochina, Malaysia and Indonesia. Like the rest of the family, the African Finfoot and the Sungrebe, the relationship to other birds is poorly understood.
The Masked Finfoot is an underwater specialist, with a long neck, and a striking sharp beak and lobed feet which are green. The male and female both have a black mask and eyebrow that contrasts with a white eyering and lateral cervical stripe. The rest of the neck is grey, the breast is pale and the back, wings and tail are rich brown. The males have an all black chin while the females have a white chin.
Habits and Range
The Masked finfoot can be found in a range of habitats across southern Asia and northern Indonesia in a variety of fresh to brackish wetlands. This range includes forest, wooded savannah, flooded forest, and even mangrove swamps.
The finfoot feeds on aquatic invertebrates, including both adults and larval mayflies, dragonflies, crustaceans, also snails, fish and amphibians. They are thought to be highly opportunistic, and take some of their prey directly off the waters surface. They are adept out of water (unlike their namesakes, the grebes) and will forage on the banks as well.
Finfoots are not gregarious in habits, and 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.
The breeding biology is poorly known; It is thought to coincide with the rainy season. They build a pad-shaped nest of small sticks above water. Five to seven eggs are laid. The chicks leave the nest shortly after hatching.
Status and Conservation
The Masked Finfoot is considered vulnerable and declining, with fewer than 10,000 birds estimated to be the world population, and populations are fragmented. Threats are human disturbance and habitat loss. The bird is protected in Malaysia.