Skip to content

Rafts of Squabbling and Diving American Coots

December 28, 2012
Parent feeding young coot.

Parent feeding young coot. 

American Coots nest in the summer marshes in the Kootenays, but I notice them most in winter when they form large rafts of birds out in the lake. Their looks are very deceiving. They are grey, innocuous looking birds.  But I find them to be very odd and well worth watching.

An adult American Coot drying off

An adult American Coot drying off

The adult coots have white beaks, red eyes and odd little “semi-palmated” feet that must be useful for walking around in marshes and for swimming in deeper water. The young have the most outrageous orange plumage and long, long legs with great long toes.   I was lucky enough to watch an adult Coot feeding three chicks.  It took great care to make sure the youngster was actually able to eat the food.  You can watch the coots tipping “bottoms up” and emerge with bills full of vegetation from the bottom of the lake in winter.  A friend of mine who was doing research on red-winged blackbirds watched as a coot swam up to a nest of blackbirds,  pulled the nest down and ate all the young.  That story suggests that coots may be opportunists when it comes to feeding.

Young American Coot

Young American Coot

Coots form large rafts of individuals in winter on the lake.  I have watched them wheel, fly, and run across the water almost as one when an eagle was hovering and trying to separate a coot from the group.   It is almost like watching a military parade when a raft of coots swims by – I have watched the birds turn their heads in unison to watch me.  All those white beaks and red eyes facing the same direction at the same time was quite a sight! This flock behaviour is quite an amazing survival mechanism.  It must be very difficult for an eagle to pick one bird out of such a churning, wheeling and diving group of birds.  You can tell when there is an eagle in the area – coots that normally stand on shore drying their feathers or searching for food are swimming in tight formation and taking several “running over the water” flights.

A raft of Coots

A raft of Coots

Coots may swim together in rafts but they seem to be continuously poking at each other and trying to poach vegetation from each other. Coots dive, come up under another coot, and walk over each other – a feeding flock of coots is a continuous mob of diving and squabbling birds.  Watching coots on a winter lake is a very interesting way to spend your time.

All photos and writing in this blog copyright J.A. Siderius 2012

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: