sun grebe

sun grebe, common name for a tropical, mainly aquatic bird of the family Heliornithidae. Sun grebes, also called finfoots, are remarkable for their colorful, puffy-toed, webbed feet, which may serve as lures for fish and other aquatic animals. They are good divers and hunt, either swimming partially submerged or from low perches. Their diet consists mainly of small aquatic animals, but they are also known to eat some plant matter. They have elongate bodies, about 12 to 20 in. (30.5–51 cm) long, and necks with long and pointed, grebelike bills. However, they are not related to the true grebe. Shy and solitary creatures, sun grebes are found singly or in pairs, typically in the vicinity of densely wooded pools and streams, and little is known of their habits. Once widely distributed, they are now limited to three species. The largest of these is the Asian sun grebe ( Heliopais personata ) measuring up to 20 in. (51 cm) in length, and found from Bengal to Malaya and Sumatra. Its body is olive-brown above, with a black head and throat, a yellow bill, and bright green legs with white stripes. At 16 in. (41 cm), the African finfoot ( Podica senegalis ) is dark brown with black and white spots above, a white belly, and bright red feet and legs. It is thought to be more of a climber than the other species. Only a third to a quarter as bulky as the Asian sun grebe and measuring less than 12 in. (30 cm) in length is the American sun grebe ( Heliornis fulica ) of South and Central America. Its plumage is colored similarly to that of the Asian sun grebe, but it is scarlet-billed with yellow, black-striped legs. All three species are marked by a white band running from eye to neck. Sun grebes build their nests from grass and reed, on platforms away from water. The female lays from two to five white, red-and-buff streaked eggs per clutch. Sun grebes are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves, order Gruiformes, family Heliornithidae.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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