What makes a bird unique? Feathers. No one else has them. Beaks. Birds own it. Wings? They all have them too, as do bats and a variety of insects. But feet? Just about everyone in the animal kingdom has feet and yet birds feet come in an amazing array of shapes and styles. Each set says a great deal about a bird’s lifestyle.
Purple Gallinules (Porphyrio martinica) and American Coots (Fulica Americana), both members of the Rallidae family, can be found in the same marshy habitat and yet have distinctly different feet.
Rails in general are secretive birds that move through densely vegetated marshes to forage. Rails, moorhens and gallinules all have long slender toes which enable them to carefully step on, over and around, submerged, floating and swaying vegetation. Purple Gallinules are well-known for their gorgeous, iridescent emerald, turquoise and violet plumage. But they also have extremely long toes which they use to nimbly navigate the arched, tightrope-like leaves of Alligator Flag in search of seeds and insects. Flight seems to be a chore for these birds but if required they can propel themselves across the surface with heavy wing beats, as they tiptoe across the lily pads.
American Coots on the other foot, have flat flanges that extended out from each toe. Although coots forage in the same marshy wetlands as gallinules, they also flock in open water. The flanged toes allow them to walk on floating vegetation as well as give them a flipper-like foot to paddle with or to dive up to six feet deep.
Wings, beaks and feathers are impressive, but a bird’s feet can provide some amazing feats as well. Which bird’s feet impress you?