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African Finfoot Podica senegalensis feeding on the back of a Hippopotamus

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In this short note, we report an observation of a rarely described behaviour of the African Finfoot Podica senegalensis, feeding on the back of a Hippopotamus Hippopotamus amphibius at Campement de Wassadou on the River Gambia in eastern Senegal.
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70 Short Notes Malimbus 40
African Finfoot Podica senegalensis feeding on the back of a Hippopotamus
We report an observation of a rarely described behaviour of the African Finfoot
Podica senegalensis, feeding on the back of a Hippopotamus Hippopotamus
amphibius at Campement de Wassadou on the River Gambia in eastern Senegal
(Tambacounda region, 13°20ʹ53ʺN, 13°22ʹ35ʺW). During our stay at the camp
between 19 and 24 Feb 2018, two hippos spent most of each day in the river in front
of the lodge. We also sighted African Finfoot Podica senegalensis on several
occasions, always as single individuals crossing the river in the open or swimming
half-concealed among the riparian vegetation, or once walking across a sand bank
while fleeing our approaching boat.
The most interesting sighting however occurred in the early afternoon of 22 Feb
between 13h30 and 13h45. One hippo was resting in the shade of the low branches
overhanging the left bank opposite the camp, with the top of its head and back above
the water while a female or non-breeding male Finfoot was observed feeding off its
back. While swimming along the sides and rear of the hippo, the bird searched for
prey on the animal and regularly extended its neck to catch something. Most
strikingly, in four or five instances the Finfoot climbed onto the back of the hippo in
pursuit of small prey invisible to us (Fig. 1). While we were unable to identify the
prey items captured by the Finfoot, we assume that these were small arthropods. At no
time did the hippo appear to express discomfort, even when the bird twice climbed
over its head to reach its back by walking between the ears. This encounter lasted at
least 15 min., since it probably started before we noticed it.
Figure 1. African Finfoot Podica senegalensis foraging on the back of a Hippopotamus
Hippopotamus amphibius, Wassadou, Senegal, 22 Feb 2018 (photo: C. Huber).
2018 Notes
Courtes 71
To our knowledge, this is the first photographic documentation of this kind of
interaction between the African Finfoot and the Hippopotamus, although the same
or similar behaviour has been witnessed several times before, including along the
River Gambia in Senegal, near Gouloumbou (13°28ʹ56ʺN, 13°44ʹ57ʺW) on 17 Mar
2014, though that interaction lasted less than 1 min. (J.-J. Guitard pers. comm.), and
at Kai Hai Island on the River Gambia in The Gambia on 26 Mar 2005 when a
Finfoot, foraging around the rump of a partially submerged hippo cow with calf, at
one point continued to forage while perched on the cow (C. Barlow in Demey
2005). Similar behaviour has been reported in southern Africa (Rockingham-Gill
2012), and Finfoot has also been seen seizing prey while swimming around bathing
Forest Buffaloes Syncerus caffer nanus and Bongos Tragelaphus eurycerus in
forest clearings of the Republic of Congo, occasionally climbing on their backs
(Ruggiero & Eves 1998). Although the usual feeding behaviour of the African
Finfoot consists of picking insects and other arthropods off the water surface, they
also pick prey, including molluscs, from the vegetation (Urban et al. 1986).
Interactions between the Finfoot and large mammals, such as that documented at
Wassadou, may therefore commonly occur in locations where both are present.
African Jacana Actophilornis africana has also been noted pulling leeches off the
neck and once from the ears of a Hippopotamus in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
(Pooley 1967).
We are grateful to Jean-Jacques Guitard, Clive Barlow, Stan Fourie and Joost Brouwer
for sharing their observations and knowledge, and for pointing us to relevant literature.
References
DEMEY, R. (ed.) (2005) Recent reports. Bull. Afr. Bird Club 12: 177–191.
POOLEY, A.C. (1967) Bird/crocodile and bird/hippopotamus commensalism in
Zululand. Ostrich 38: 11–12.
ROCKINGHAM-GILL, P. (2012) Hippo encounter with an African Finfoot. Honeyguide 58: 67.
RUGGIERO, R.G. & EVES, H.E. (1998) Bird–mammal associations in forest openings of
northern Congo (Brazzaville). Afr. J. Ecol. 36: 183–193.
URBAN, E.K., FRY, C.H. & KEITH, S. (1986) The Birds of Africa, vol. 2. Academic
Press, London.
Received 31 May 2018; revised 13 June 2018
André ZAPUN1, Patrick ALBRECHT1, Alain BARBALAT1, Manuel BUENO1, Gottlieb
DÄNDLIKER1, Christian HUBER1, Cédric POCHELON1, Cyril SCHÖNBÄCHLER1,
Abdou LO2 & Bram PIOT3
1GOBG, 43 ch. des Bouveries, Chancy, Switzerland <info@gobg.ch>
2BP 81 Toubacouta, Fatick, Senegal
3Cité Ndiatte Almadies, Ngor, Dakar, Senegal
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Article
Resident and migrant birds and several mammal species utilize natural forest openings to exploit foraging opportunities that are otherwise rare or absent in the dense forest of equatorial Africa. Certain bird species exhibit protocooperative and commensal relationships with these mammals. In a large marshy opening, five species of birds exploited the actions of large terrestrial mammals to flush prey, two species of birds used two species of aquatic mammals to expose prey, and another bird species fed directly on mammalian ectoparasites. African jacanas had a higher foraging rate when associated with gorillas and elephants than when alone, and great egrets had a higher capture efficiency when elephants were present. In a second opening, covered by a shallow, algae-laden pond, African jacanas, finfeet, and Hartlaub's ducks competed to remove arthropod ectoparasites from forest buffalo and bongo antelope, both of which consistently reacted to the alarm calls of jacanas and Hartlaub's ducks. At least ten species of birds directly benefit from associations with mammals. Indirect benefits were also noted as African jacanas, black crakes, and palm-nut vultures selected food items from elephant and buffalo dung.
  • R Demey
DEMEY, R. (ed.) (2005) Recent reports. Bull. Afr. Bird Club 12: 177-191.
Hippo encounter with an African Finfoot
  • P Rockingham-Gill
ROCKINGHAM-GILL, P. (2012) Hippo encounter with an African Finfoot. Honeyguide 58: 67.
  • E K Urban
  • C H Fry
  • S Keith
URBAN, E.K., FRY, C.H. & KEITH, S. (1986) The Birds of Africa, vol. 2. Academic Press, London.