Photo courtesy Charles Martinez
This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the American coot.
These common water birds seem to share more characteristics with unrelated ducks than they do with the elusive rail species which are their closest relatives. Far from secretive, coots are generally found swimming together in flocks, keeping up a chatter of clucks, cackles and grunts, and breaking into noisy chases across the water.
Several adaptations allow these birds to feed on both water and land. Their feet are not webbed like a duck’s, but large, fleshy lobes on the toes assist in propulsion through the water while allowing coots to also walk on land. Their legs are set far back on the body, not a great arrangement for walking, but an asset in diving. The thick, white bill, used for plucking plants, looks like it belongs on a chicken.
American coots eat mainly aquatic plants, obtained by dabbling in shallow water and by diving in deeper areas. They will steal from each other and are also harassed by wigeons and gadwalls looking to grab food brought up from the lake bottom which they can’t reach. On land, coots eat terrestrial plants,insects, worms, snails and other invertebrates.
Of the 10 coot species found worldwide, only the American coot is native to North America. It is found in a wide variety of freshwater wetlands that contain thick stands of emergent vegetation along the shoreline and deeper areas of water. Slate-gray adults appear black on the water, have a white patch at the base of the tail, red eyes and a red patch above the bill. Chicks with bare red spots on the head, red bills and wispy rust-colored down are comical looking.
Except when the lake is frozen, American coots can be found, often in large numbers, at Echo Canyon Lake State Wildlife Area. Money obtained from purchases of fishing and hunting licenses and state wildlife area passes financially support these Colorado areas.
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