The third step in the recommended approach to identifying an unknown bird involves another often overlooked feature of a bird (in the previous post we looked at the bill), which can be crucial in determining to which group a bird belongs, and in a number of cases, even the species.

Step three: The length, colour and other features of the legs.

When looking into the features common to the birds in the various groups, you will also notice that there is great similarity as regards the legs and feet of the birds in a group. Concerning the legs, take cognisance of aspects such as length, colour(s), thickness and the presence of feathers on the lower leg. Regarding the feet, colour, shape and other features, such as webbed feet, toe arrangement, length of toes and length of claws, should be noted. Some of these aspects are illustrated in the next eight photographs.

Western Cattle Egret (Veereier) – Long, thin, olive-yellow (straw coloured) legs and feet

Photos by Louis Jordaan

Little Egret (Kleinwitreier) – Long, thin, dark legs and yellow feet

Groundscraper Thrush (Gevlekte Lyster) – Three toes point forward and one back

Olive Woodpecker ♂ (Gryskopspeg) – Two toes point forward and two back

African Harrier-Hawk (Kaalwangvalk) – Long, sharp talons; no feathers on tarsus (“lower leg”)

Cape Vulture (Kransaasvoël) – Relatively short, blunt claws

Martial Eagle (Breëkoparend) – Feathers on tarsus

Reed Cormorant (Rietduiker) – Webbed feet

Keep in mind, though, that often it is not possible to observe the legs of a bird, and in particular the feet. This is especially true of birds amongst vegetation on the ground and in water.

Up next: The colour of plumage.