Tag Archives: Foot-type Family

It’s all in the Foot(print)

On the Long Beach Peninsula last weekend, Jane and students Qi, Summer, Lauren, Angeline and Loren checked out the beaches for birds and marine debris. Expecting to see hundreds of Cassin’s Auklets (a lone Pacific Loon, that’s it) they turned their attention to other beach curiosities. Here’s a look:

Domestic dog print. But wait! How do we know it's not a coyote? Front nails are spread far apart (coyotes nearly touch)

Domestic dog print. But wait! How do we know it’s not a coyote? Two front toes (and nails) are spread far apart (coyotes’ nails nearly touch).

Hoof print; most force on forward (leading) edge.

Hoof print. Most force on forward (leading) edge.

Larid (gull) print. Bird is walking towards the top of the photo.

Larid (gull) print. Bird is walking towards the top of the photo.

Crow foot. Toes are segmented. With fast movement, front nails make drag marks in sand.

American Crow foot. Toes are segmented. With fast movement, nails catch in the sand, extending straight lines from front toes.

Three-toed Shorebird. So tiny!

Three-toed Shorebird. So tiny!

A New Foot-type Family!

How’s this for rare?  A new-to-COASST foot-type family, found on a North Coast beach! Sue Keilman and Scott Horton found this Virginia Rail on their Third Beach survey.  In the Beached Birds field guide, rails are most closely related to the American Coot. As seen in the guide, coots have lobed toes that recall those of the grebes. This rail, however, has four free toes, three of which are very long and spindly. As you can see in the photos, the longest toe is virtually the same length as the tarsus! As usual, foot type betrays function: rails are perfectly suited for walking on soft, marshy substrate and floating vegetation.

What surprise will COASSTers find next?

Image of Virginia Rail

The first Virginia Rail found on a COASST survey.

Image of Virginia Rail foot

Note the three long toes and one short toe.


Foot-type Moment: Ostrich

Checking in with former COASST staff finds Annie Woods very much absorbed by her passion for farming. After leaving us Annie joined Local Roots, an sustainable urban farm owned by Jason Salvo and Siri Erikson-Brown. An intense growing season featured everything from beets to broccoli. Come winter Annie accepted an internship at Green String Farm in Petaluma, California where she joined 10 other interns from around the country with a similar goal of starting their own farms. Planting, pruning, composting, baking, irrigation, integrated pest management, butchering, candle-making, fat-rendering, ostrich wrangling – Annie did it all.

Annie and the ostrich foot

Ostrich wrangling?!? You bet. We won’t go into details, but here’s Annie showing off an ostrich foot. Yeow baby! Now that is a tarsus. With a measurement of 40-50 cm (yup, in COASST units that would be 400-500mm), ostrich tarsi are pretty much as long as it gets. And take a look at the feet – 2 front-facing extremely fleshy toes, and only the longest has a nail. Big padded toes and a long tarsus are a recipe for running really fast – they’ve been clocked at over 70 kilometers per hour. In fact, ostrich feet are a model for above-the-knee amputee prosthetics.


Check out those toes!


Although that nail might not look too dangerous compared to the talons of an eagle or a large owl, there’s quite a punch behind it. At 300+ pounds, the force behind an ostrich kick is enough to slice open an approaching predator – or unlucky person. Ouch! Given how fast they can run, best to stay away.

COASSTers might not be seeing this on the beach (we can only hope), but we thought we’d share a “foot-type moment.” Got a rare one? Send us a photo and your foot-type story.