Bird of the Week: American Coot

The American Coot is a nearly ubiquitous presence on bodies of water across North America, from prairie potholes to urban ponds. These red-eyed, chicken-sized birds float like ducks, dive like ducks, and flock like ducks–they even emit a ducklike, quacking honk. But don’t be fooled: coots are more closely related to herons and egrets than they are to mallards and teal among which they dabble for aquatic plants and invertebrates. A look at their feet makes the distinction immediately clear, as coots lack the webbed feet of ducks and geese. Instead, their toes have fleshy lobes, which act as paddles in the water but don’t restrict their dexterity on land. The lobes also help the coots run across the surface of bodies of water. This is helpful because coots are clumsy fliers and, unlike ducks, cannot take off straight from the water; like albatrosses, they have to get a running start. American Coots are year-round residents in central Texas, but in winter they are particularly populous, their flocks often reaching thousands of individuals.

Compiled by Owen Moorhead. Sources include the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society.
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