Two youngsters saw us on one of the paths on Reifel Island, and came running when I rattled my bag of goodies. Laurie took photos, while I tried to tempt them to come closer. About 1 meter was their limit. I was already crouched, making myself small and non-threatening, so I looked at feet.
|The pair of sandhill colts.|
It's surprising how some of the most beautiful birds have such unlovely feet.
I noticed something odd about the sandhills' toes. Like most birds, there are four on each foot, arranged with three forward, one pointing back. But look at that rear toe. It's barely a stub, and I can't see any sign of a toenail.
Compare it to a Great Blue heron's rear toes:
|Heron, Cougar Creek|
|... and his feet.|
The heron has full-size rear toes, suitable for perching in trees or standing on slippery logs. The sandhill crane has to rely on those front toes only. Is this why I've never seen one in a tree?
And here's a Black Crowned Night Heron, another wader that sleeps in trees.
|Long, almost prehensile toes, front and rear.|
A few useful links:
- A sandhill crane's foot on Flickr. This one seems to have a rudimentary nail.
- A series of photos of fantastic bird feet, on Burdr. No sandhills or herons, though.
- A rundown of the different shapes of bird feet. Fernbank Science Center.
- Wild Turkey feet. From Hybrid Birder. They're very similar to the sandhill's feet, if a lot shorter. The hind toe is up where it does no good, and the nail is stubby. Interesting. I never would have thought to look, but for Rebecca's comment.