I’ve been looking at the Great Egret all wrong. Every time I see one, I focus on the head. That magnificent dagger and vise grip of a beak. That cold, unblinking eye. Interesting, beautiful. But what’s really amazing about this bird is its feet. If it were a human, its fingers could easily span two octaves on the piano. Without looking down, it articulates its digits to match the contours of the ground. It definitely has feelings, and probably very exquisite feelings, in its toes. It can set them down firmly on flat pavement, and it can place them with the greatest delicacy on grass. I’ve read somewhere that it has a sensory organ like an ear in its feet that allows it to “hear” the pitter-patter of tiny mammalian feet in burrows underground. It can also hang on to steep and slippery slopes on shoreline rocks, although that isn’t part of this video. All in all, this bird’s lower extremities are a work of evolutionary genius in their complexity and versatility. The feet are easily more admirable as a biotechnology, and quite as essential to the bird’s survival, as the beak.
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