You Old Coot!

OK, I admit it. I'm sympatheic for the common, the underdog, and the downtrodden. As a result- I'm a huge fan of the American Coot! Go Mighty Coots! Sure, I know that coots aren't considered one of the glamorous water birds. But it is an accessible species- it seems to stay year round here on the shores of the Tennessee River here at Bay Village in Alabama.

Common? This bird was thought of as being common as far back as 1897. "The commonest birds of the swamp lakes are the American Coots. Everywhere through the fringing growth of flags their unsheltered nests are to be found, and out upon the open water their dark forms dot the shimmering surface." (source)

Coot. What kind of name is that? Its other common names aren't any better: White-billed Mud-hen, Ivory-billed Mud-hen, Crow-duck. Blue Peter. What? Was White-billed Black Dabbler already taken? The American Coot's scientific name is Fulica americana. Fulica simply means Coot or Waterhen. (source). Even a gathering of Coots sounds undignified- they are known as a "codgery of coots." (source)

I have a theory as to why the American Coot isn't more respected. Simple- it isn't a game bird like certain geese and ducks. No one rushes to purchase a lovely Coot stamp as a collectible. Nor do they join Coots Unlimited. As to their worth as game- consider this article from the book The Birds of California: An Introduction to More than 300 Common Birds: "They are worthless as game birds, as their flesh is tough and rank in taste; for this reason the real sportsman shuns them."

The American Coot looks like a duck and swims like a duck- so it must be a duck? Nope- the American Coot isn't a duck. It isn't even related to ducks. It is, however, related to the Rails and the Gallinules. Tricky. I like it more and more.

My son Sebastian and I enjoy watching them dive for food along the shore. He asked me, "What do they eat?" I replied "fish". (In actuality I had no idea.) So, I looked up the diet of the American Coot. Coots are considered omnivores. Their diet consists of larvae of insects and crustaceans. (source) They are also known to eat young frogs, minnows, and plants. The following photo is of an American Coot catching a Shad.

To hear the call of the American Coot, click here.

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Bird-life A Guide to the Study of Our Common Birds By Frank Michler Chapman, Ernest Thompson Seton


The Giraffe Head Tree said...

Carroll and I drove to Waterloo in search of bald eagles in January (see an older post), but didn't find any. What we DID find were gazillions of Coots. At the time we called it a Coot Convention. Now we know the proper terminology - A Codgery of Coots! Great post! Love it!

Obbop said...

Being self-classified as a Disgruntled Old Coot I thank ye for the information provided about my animal brethren.

The information provided was enlightening and entertaining.

Eve said...

Thanks for steering me out of my Coot conundrum Daniel! This is very helpful and quite entertaining. I'm glad you weren't lying when you told Sebastian they eat fish. I like to think fast on my feet too...but it helps when your at least semi right!! I will forever look upon this non-duck as the Mighty Coot "Lord of the Lake"!