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the web of life in southern Africa

Podica senegalensis (African finfoot) 

Watertrapper [Afrikaans]; Watertrapper [Dutch]; Grébifoulque d'Afrique [French]; Afrikanische binsenralle [German]; Pés-de-barbatanas [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Gruiformes > Family: Heliornithidae

Podica senegalensis (African finfoot)
African finfoot. [photo Sion Stanton ©]
Podica senegalensis (African finfoot)  Podica senegalensis (African finfoot) 
African finfoot adult, Wilderness, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©] African finfoot juvenile, Wilderness, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

Distribution and habitat

Occurs across much of sub-Saharan Africa, from Senegal to western Ethiopia south through the DRC and Angola to southern Africa. Within southern Africa it occurs in the Caprivi Strip (Namibia), Zimbabwe, central Mozambique, north-eastern and southern South Africa and Swaziland, generally preferring quiet wooded watercourses bordered by dense riparian vegetation, largely avoiding fast-flowing and stagnant rivers. It is a rarely seen bird because of its habits and habitat.

Distribution of African finfoot in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Movements and migrations

Mainly sedentary, although it may move to more permanent wetlands in drought years.


Eats mainly insects, supplemented with other invertebrates and fish, doing most of its foraging beneath overhanging vegetation along the river shore, plucking prey from the vegetation and water surface. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:


  • Monogamous solitary nester, defending a territory which can vary in width from a few hundred metres to a few kilometres.
  • The nest (see image below) is a messy, deep bowl of reeds, coarse grass, thin twigs and rush leaves, typically placed on a branch or branches above water, or in flood debris or reeds.
Podica senegalensis (African finfoot)  

African finfoot nest, Pafuri, South Africa. [photo Warwick Tarboton ©]

  • Egg-laying season is from August-April, peaking from September-March.
  • It lays 1-3 eggs, which are incubated solely by the female for at least three weeks.
  • The chicks are initially brooded by their parents, leaving the nest a few days after hatching.


Not threatened globally but Vulnerable in South Africa and Swaziland, as it is threatened by the clearing of the riverine vegetation it is dependent on.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.