Walking along the lake path, my husband and I saw this beautiful American Coot swimming pretty close by. It was alone, the other coots swimming further ashore. We watched as this coot fed. Notice its eyes are on me. Now that's a fun shot.
American Coots are not ducks and are not related to ducks. They are in the rail family. What's fun to know about the American Coot is that it compresses itself and walks one foot in front of the other, leaving one set of footprints as it goes.
You may have heard them referred to as mud ducks. This is because when they move their heads move. They are 16" long and weight less than 2 lb.
They have large feet with divided toes. Yes, they have toes like we do. Their feet fold to make it easier for them to move in the water. When on land, they walk like a chicken.
Whenever we see American Coots, they are generally in large groups. This is because they are very social birds and fly in flocks. Speaking of flying, they are not the best fliers although they are capable of flying from the U.S. to Europe. It takes a lot of energy out of them to move from a swimming position to a flying position. They run across the top of the water for several yards, flapping their wings vigorously, before becoming airborne. Come to think of it, I have never seen a coot in flight.
Early one morning, I stopped at the lake path and watched this fleet of coots swim nearby. The sun was just coming up over the Capitol, bringing tranquility to the morning.
Fossils have been found indicating that the American Coots have been here since the Pleistocene period (about 2.6 million years ago).
American Coots dive down 3-6 feet to reach food. They also eat on the surface of the water, moving their feet quickly. They eat mostly plant material but will also eat insects, cattails, waterlilies, fish, tadpoles, worms and more. When they are on land they eat plants, grains, oak leaves, and elk leaves. What's interesting to note is that they steal food from other ducks and will steal food from people who are having a picnic nearby. To them food is food. No matter how it is obtained.
So, have you seen American Coots? One of my favorite sightings was at Governor Nelson State Park when we saw this coot standing on a downed tree. It was the first time I had seen one on land. Fun to see the white on its tail.
I hope you enjoyed learning about the American Coot.
Coming next week: learn about Bottle-nose dolphins.
Thank you for visiting!
Kaufman, K. (1996). Lives of North American Birds.