The American Coot (Fulica Americana) is a medium sized water bird that resembles a duck in shape, but has a short whitish chicken like bill. The body is a lovely deeply dark bluish gray which blends to black on the head and lighter gray on the chest and belly. Primarily a diving bird, it sits lower in the water than a duck. The whitish frontal shield rises between eyes that are a startling red. The legs are a greenish yellow and the feet are lobed instead of webbed. If you don’t know what lobed feet are click here to read about the Pied-billed Grebe’s feet and its relationship to flamingos in the blog “If It Looks Like a Duck”.
A member of the usually shy Rail family, the coot is quite conspicuous in its preference for open water. Within the Rail family, the coot is sort of like the crazy old uncle that sits on the porch with his corncob pipe and shotgun, eccentric but loveable. While coots can exist in flocks peacefully, most are a bit more territorial than other water birds. Breeding season finds competitors bringing their A-game to the table. Territorial displays and vocalizations tell both competitors and threats to steer clear. Intimidation techniques include flapping the wings hard enough to rise out of the water and running towards the bad guy while screaming its head off. Coots are often vocal during the night as well as during the day. The voice of the coot is quite distinctive and consists of an assortment of grunts and cackling.
Coots are strong flyers once on the wing, but require a “running start” to rise from the water. This explains the Coot’s preference for open water. Coots are year round residents in Texas. For those that migrate, they prefer to fly at night.
The newly hatched American Coot is quite comical in appearance and one wonders how they mature into sleek monochromatic adults. Born with down that is black on top and dark gray underneath, a halo of yellow and orange fringe encircles the head and neck. The crown is naked bright red skin and it has blue patches above each eye. The bill is bright red with a black tip.
Some animal sayings make sense, “busy as a bee”; while others “she eats like a bird” couldn’t be further from the truth. Birds are gluttons since they must have the energy to sustain flight, so if she “ate like a bird”, she’d be quite round. Maybe the familiar saying, “crazy as a coot” has more to do with the dichotomy between the peaceful bird quietly paddling in the middle of the pond and the aggressive display as it runs over the water towards its target flapping its wings and screaming wildly. The Doctor Jekyll personality is relaxing to watch, but the occasional burst of Mr. Hyde is quite entertaining.