A Rare Visitor – Masked Finfoot

March 20, 2010 at 11:35 am | Posted in itchy fingers | 4 Comments
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One of the most exciting things about birdwatching must be having rare birds visiting. Earlier this year, Itchyfingers were fortunate enough to witness the star appearance of one such rare visitor at our reservoir. We had seen this bird in Malaysia years ago, but we have never seen it locally. It was a rather tame bird, oblivious to the attention from the many birders and photographers. These are some of the record shots taken…

The Masked Finfoot (Heliopais  personata) is an aquatic bird found in
rivers in broadleaved evergreen forests, mangroves, swamp forests. It is
patchily distributed from north-east India and Bangladesh, through
Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam to Peninsular Malaysia,
Sumatra and Java (one record), Indonesia. Itchyfingers only heard of
two or three records of the bird in Singapore from our friends

Usually secretive, the Masked Finfoot jerks its head back….

…and forth when swimming… very comical…hahah…This one is a male,
with grey hindcrown and hindneck; throat and upper foreneck is black with
white border; forecrown and line along side of the crown is black. The thick
yellow bill has a small horn at the base. The rest of the upperside is mostly
brown with greyer mantle, mostly whitish upperparts; flanks and
undertail-coverts brown with some whitish bars. The eyes are dark brown.
Legs and feet are bright green colour

Too bad in the two hours we were there, the bird just swam in and out of the vegetation and didn’t come on land or perch on any branches, so we missed the chance of taking any photos of its feet. It soon decided to hide from the limelight and it was too hot to stay on with an empty tummy…Too bad the bird left few days later before we could find time to visit again.

Back home, Itchyfingers dug out old photos of the Masked Finfoot taken in Malaysia years ago to compare. Apparently the one we saw in Malaysia was different from this one, and we got a photo of the bird perching on a branch, showing its green feet in its full glory… 😀

The Masked Finfoot may be a water bird, well adapted for aquatic habitat,
but this does not mean that it is clumsy on land. It can run fast on land
and clamber onto trees. This is because its feet are not fully webbed like
ducks. Instead, the pea green feet are lobed, enabling the bird to propel
itself in water and yet do not hinder its movement on land

There was some controversy involving the gender of this bird at the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM) years ago. At first glance, it looked like a female, with throat, upper foreneck and much of the lores being whitish; less black on forecrown, no horn on bill and yellow eyes. But on closer look, the horn on the bill was clearly visible, as on our photo above, and the eyes were not yellow. So some birders concluded that it might be a juvenile male. I guess Itchyfingers will have to wait for another chance to see the female finfoot then!



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  1. Hi, itchyfingers, if this was the one at Mandai. I did manage to get some shots of the finfoot resting on a log. It swam to the log on both days in the late evenings after its done with the feeding in the open area. The log is just about 100m to 200m towards the zoo. Have to bash into the vegetation to get to the bank. Hope it will come back this year.

    • Hi Calvin,

      Yes, that was the one. We didn’t see any big log at the place we shot and was just hoping that it will come up to sun itself. Unfortunately there were simply too many photographers around so the bird may not be comfortable. Good that you got a spot with a log. Ya, hopefully more rare birds will pass by Singapura…

  2. Back in 1997 I observed one in a pond at Malacca, Malaysia.

    • I saw another one in Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM) some times in the early 2000s too…

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