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Nature in it's glory

Nature in it's glory

Jan 27, 2010

American Coot

American coot foraging
I knew that this was an unusual bird, although apparently quite abundant, when I spotted it, and never in my wildest dreams did I think that this bird would choose to raise its young at this little city park that I occasionally visit.  Apparently, however, this particular park  had what ever this pair of American Coots required to raise their offspring and lucky for me they stayed.  I truly hope that they return this spring, although that seems somewhat doubtful, as the park is quite often used for entertainment something this bird could not possibly be comfortable with especially come Canada Day.

The American Coot has two aliases, one being Marsh Hen and the other Moorhen. This is because it does not have webbed feet, and  sports a heavy beak just like a chicken. Their legs are long, their toes are long and suitable for walking on floating leaves or debris, and colored yellowish green.  The American Coot makes its home throughout North and South America in it's preferred habitat of marshes, wetlands and ponds.
American Coot and young

From what I observed of this pair, they are aggressive, territorial, and very protective of their young.  Their young are at first so ugly that they are actually cute, and brightly colored when first hatched; quite gaudily in yellow and red.  The parents both took part in feeding the young, who were difficult to spot, unless you knew where to look and sat quite still as not to alarm the parents.  The parents keep the young hidden in safety amongst the reeds and bull rushes.  In fact, the only reason I was able to take pictures of the young was because I heard grunt like sounds emanating from the reeds, which made me curious enough to stand still, watch and listen.

American Coot baby

I counted eight little ones, and the parents seemed to take care of roughly half of that number each.  It was a delight to watch the parents do so, diving beneath the water and coming up with tidbits to feed the little ones, each in its turn.  Whenever someone came to feed the ducks at this pond, the coots would aggressively compete for the food with the ducks in order to feed their young.
American coot baby close up

Within roughly two weeks the little ones turned a silver gray color, and they grew quite quickly, as most birds do, but they stayed hidden amongst the reeds for the most part until they were close to a size with their parents.  They did not develop the distinctive,  redish brown  third eye spot on their foreheads though until late in their growth, when they were nearly adult and the parents continued to feed them even at this point but only occasionally.  Then one day, at the end of August the male coot abandoned the field as it were by disappearing, while the female stayed with the young.  I never actually saw the young practise their flying, but they must have learned at some point because all of the coots simply vanished from the pond in September.

Family of American Coot
There was something very satisfying, joyous and at the same time profound to be found in observing these birds.  When I watched them the world seemed to fade away and be replaced by peace.  I know I came away with yet another lesson that I have learned although I cannot as yet express precisely what that was.

If you wish to learn more about the American Coots, see a video or listen to its voice, simply follow these links:

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