Thursday, October 4, 2007

American Coot--Fulica americana

A Crowd of Coots. Courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

I like the photo above because it captures the essence of the American Coot. Coots, in a sense, are a pack bird. They are often seen in groups--sometimes large groups. When they run--usually because someone in the park is feeding ducks--they sometimes flap their wings out to their sides like arms seemingly to steady themselves in their headlong dash for the grub. No need to ring the dinner bell with these clumsy-looking little birds.

Coots at Lake Balboa in the San Fernando Valley running for a handout.

The American coot is a very common bird. Many people think it is a duck, but it's in a totally different family. When I am out birding, I am frequently asked what kind of duck coots are or if it is a duck. The only duck-like things about coots are that it swims, sometimes hangs out in parks, and will join ducks when people feed them bread, corn, or other grain. (Please note that feeding the ducks is not a good idea for many reasons including poor nutrition, disease, and overpopulation.) However, the coot is not a duck. It does not have an bill like a duck or even webbed feet .

American Coot in shallow water at Central Park in Huntington Beach

In fact, it is the feet of the American Coot that so many people find fascinating. Its feet have lobed toes and are green. I first noticed their feet when I was a child visiting the L.A. Arboretum. There were lots and lots of coots as well as ducks on Baldwin Lake near the Lucky Baldwin Cottage (The Queen Anne Cottage). When the coots clambered out of the lake and came running to get some food, all I could do is stare at their weird, green feet.

Coot showing off those funny feet at Central Park West by Huntington Lake.

Now, I kind of like their odd feet. They grow on you. They are different, that's for sure. They've got style. Nerdy-cool.

Video I took at Central Park Huntington Beach West:

Coots eat aquatic plants, roots, insects, grain, invertebrates like worms and other squishy things. They line up for corn or bread when ducks are getting fed. Their bills look more like a chicken's than a duck's.

Coot swimming at Huntington Beach's Central Park.

Coots are the only diving member of their family. Coots are often called "mud hens." They will go anywhere for food, and aren't ashamed to beg. Coots are aggressive at times. I have seen them charge, head down, at another coot. Today I saw one get into a little peck fest with a Mallard Duck. And yet, they do hang out in large flocks getting along for the most part. Coots are in the same family as rails, Gallinules, and Moorhens, and the only member of their family that likes to gather in large groups. Most non-coot family members prefer, like Greta Garbo, to be alone.

Coot foraging for food.

Coots are characters and worth studying. Don't overlook this common bird just because he's hanging all over the place with all his friends. Watch. He'll teach you something new about birds and their behavior.

American Coot Links

US Geological Survey's American Coot Page

All About Birds from Cornell University: American Coot Page

Stanford University Page on Coots

This page has no pictures, but the text provides some really descriptive passages about coot social behavior.

Passport to Texas Bird of the Month 2001: American Coot

Good article on Coots.

Animal Diversity Web: American Coots

Good, detailed article.

American Coots: The Bad Boys of the Bird World

Article about all the aggressive and annoying behavior of the American Coot, and also about how they deserve respect.

Coots Can Count from National Geographic

Turns out the birds are smart in many ways.

American Coot Swimming at Lake Balboa in the San Fernando Valley.

Videos of American Coots

Coots Feeding Chicks from You-Tube

Music, video, and still photographs. Nice clip.

Internet Bird Collection Coot Videos

Lots of videos showing coots.

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Anonymous said...

I was out doing a bit of photography last weekend when a coulpe stopped and asked what type of bird "that was?" I said nature's squeaky toy - the coot. Great write up - I enjoyed reading it.

Orange County Birder Girl said...

Thanks for the encouragement. It was fun to write this article. Always good to hear from another nature lover. Thanks for stopping by.

Perry Tenitiss said...

We have these birds here in Amarillo, but their beaks are a very pale blue and their feet are kelpy green. Is this a variation or another species?

Orange County Birder Girl said...

Perry, nothing I have seen says that American coot bills in Texas are light blue. If there is a variation, this California girl has not heard of it. It may be another species, but I looked and don't find another coot or rail matching that description. If you find out what it is, let us know. Thanks for stopping in.