It is the only member of the genus Heliornis (Bonnaterre, 1791), and the Heliornithidae family to which it belongs contains just two other species, the African Finfoot, Podica senegalensis, and the Masked Finfoot Heliopais personata, which breeds in eastern India down through southeast Asia to the Wallace Line.
The Sungrebe is a small slim-bodied water bird, typically 28-31 cm long and weighing 130 g. It is mainly brown, with a long neck and blackish tail, and a long red bill. The crown and neck are strikingly patterned with black and white stripe, and the feet are black and yellow. The sexes differ in the colour of the cheeks, buff in the female and white for the male.
They are shy birds which swim in slow-flowing streams and secluded waterways, sometimes partly submerged, like an Anhinga. They dive well, but rarely fly unless alarmed. The twig nest is built low in a bush over water; three or four brown-mottled cinnamon eggs are laid, and incubated for about eleven days. The chicks hatch naked, blind, and defenseless. The father, alone, possesses specialized pockets, or pouches, one under each wing, which carry the helpless young, even in flight.
The Sungrebe feeds on a variety of aquatic life. fish and water plants. It is usually silent, but has a breeding season honking call, eeooo eeooo eeooo.