big foot

A common sight in the marsh:  herons and egrets stalking their prey.

great egret and wood ducklings

the stalker creeps along in the marsh behind a family of wood ducks

This part of the marsh is flooded from all the recent rain, and the foraging area is congested with once weedy vegetation that has since died.  This might be fine for foraging on critters hiding in the mucky bottom, but it makes flying to an observation perch challenging when the bird tries to navigate through the dead sticks.

great egret-

Sometimes the bird’s wings get caught up on a branch.

great egret-

And then there’s the problem of finding a suitable perch.  There’s not much to hang onto among the skinny little branchlets.

great egret-feet

In fact, how does a bird with such long toes get a grasp on a thin little branch?

great egret-

Finally perched, the egret continues its hunt.

great egret-feet

Toes are finally wrapped around the perch, but they can’t really close tight enough to enable a firm grasp of it.  

These big feet are meant for something else entirely — wading.  Long toes that distribute the bird’s weight evenly on an enlarged surface area prevent herons and egrets from sinking into the muck, as they stride along the marsh looking for anything moving.

Great Blue Heron feet-TexasEagle-flickr

Great Blue Herons have an additional advantage in wading — some webbing between the toes that further spread out the surface area of the feet.

So, big feet may be disadvantageous in perching on small stems, but of great advantage in wading along mucky marsh beds.

2 thoughts on “big foot

  1. Very nice tight shots and explaination of footwork. I suppose the egret vs the blue heron has the advantage in the marsh NOT having webbing, to wrap its toes around those sticks. An interesting design of nature, eh?

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