Masked Finfoot Of Vietnam – Heliornithidae
The Masked Finfoot (Heliopais personatus) is the only species of bird that belongs to the family Heliornithidae in Vietnam. It is a large, waterbird that is found in Southeast Asia, including Vietnam. The Masked Finfoot is known for its distinctive appearance, with a long, slender neck, a sharp, hooked bill, and webbed feet with partially-webbed toes. This species is most often found in fast-flowing rivers and streams and is an excellent swimmer and diver.
The Masked Finfoot feeds on fish, crustaceans, and other aquatic prey, which it catches using its sharp bill. This species of bird is considered to be threatened or endangered due to habitat loss and other human activities, and its populations are declining. Conservation efforts are underway to help protect the Masked Finfoot and its habitat, in order to prevent its extinction.
The Masked Finfoot measures 52 – 54.5 centimeters (20.5 – 21.5 inches) in length. It has a curved neck and a sharp, thick, pointed orange/yellow beak. Males have a small horn at the base of the beak.
As its name suggests, both male and female finfoots have a black facial mask and eyebrow which contrasts with a white eyering and neck marking. The lower half of the neck is grey and its breast is a pale grey. The back, tail, and wings are a rich brown color. Males have a black chin while females have a white chin.
The finfoot’s legs and feet have yellow and black stripes and it has been speculated that, as these colors are not involved in any behavioral displays, they may be some kind of warning to underwater predators. Yellow and black stripes are one of nature’s classic deterrents as seen in wasps, caterpillars, and snakes.
The Masked Finfoot is adapted for a variety of aquatic habitats such as brackish wetlands, mangrove swamps, and lowland riverine forests, as well as forests and savanna woodlands. It has been recorded in both coastal and inland wetlands, such as tidal creeks and flooded forests
The Masked Finfoot is an opportunistic feeder. Its diet consists of aquatic invertebrates such as Mayfly and Mayfly larvae, Dragonflies, and crustaceans. They will also eat snails, fish, and amphibians.
Finfoots will also take prey off the surface of the water and being skilled out of the water as well as in, they will also forage on river banks
Masked Finfoots are not gregarious birds and are only usually observed in pairs or singular. Although it is adapted for aquatic surroundings, it is quite competent on land.
The masked finfoot can run quite fast on land and even clamber into trees and is quite agile at maneuvering through the branches. The reason why these birds are quite flexible on land is due to their feet not being fully webbed. Instead, their feet are lobed like in Grebes and Coots. This enables the finfoot to be competent in water by using its lobed feet to propel itself through the water and yet unrestricted on land.
Masked Finfoots are vocal birds and produce a rather high-pitched bubbling sound during courtship, sometimes followed by clucks.
The breeding habits of the Masked Finfoot are fairly unknown as it is such a secretive bird. They are so elusive that even experienced ornithologists do not fully understand their behavior or if they spend more time in the water than on land.
It is thought that breeding coincides with the rainy seasons. Nests are pad-shaped structures of small sticks that are constructed above the water. Females lay 5 – 7 eggs in the nests. Finfoot chicks leave the nest shortly after hatching
Tips to Identify Masked Finfoot in the Field
A bizarre bird that loosely resembles a cormorant with a hornbill’s brightly-colored beak. Gray-brown overall with a black mask extending from the face down to the throat that is darker and more extensive in males. A reclusive species, typically encountered at dawn or dusk, skulking in well-vegetated waterways such as mangroves, swamps, and shaded rivers. Gives a loud odd bubbling call followed by an amphibian-like series of clucks.