American Coot

"Black Things - Flying"

        cootDid you see ghosts, goblins, and black things flying on Halloween night? You know, there really are black creatures that fly in mass at night and arrive unannounced each year in our area! Lots of them! When winter sets in up north, ice covered fresh water ponds are no longer a place for the American Coots. Migrating Coots fly at night in large flocks, close to the ground. Coots require a great deal of effort to become airborne, for they must peddle across the water with their huge feet to gain speed before lifting off. The American Coot is often mistaken for a black duck floating on the water, but looks a lot like a chicken on land, except for the feet.
        We were at Ivan's Reservoir last week and it was covered with water fowl. When we looked really good, we found a Great Blue Heron, a Great Egret, some Mallard Ducks, a couple of Killdeer, a Pied-billed Grebe, and about one zillion American Coots. The Coots are black and have a white bill. Their legs are yellow, with scalloped toes rather than webbed feet. They are omnivorous, eating plant material and aquatic animals. They are divers. First you see one, it disappears for a few seconds, and comes up about 16 feet away. It dives again, comes up again, and in another place. However, Coots are more closely related to shore birds than to ducks and spend a great deal of time feeding out of the water. Their favorite food, tender green grass on local golf courses, makes them sorely disliked by golfers. In warm weather they are seen on most fresh water ponds across North America, including golf courses.

        The American Coot is commonly called the "mud duck" in southern Utah because of its reputation of tasting like mud, and therefore, hardly ever hunted by Duck Hunters. Coots have almost no pressure on their population during duck hunting seasons. In spite of their notoriety as "just so so" birds, there are still people who get excited when they see and learn about this bird for the first time. I hope that your excitement goes up on your next encounter of the common American Coot. Judy Warren is the artist of the American Coot. This drawing is done in watercolor. If you have questions about birds or our next Red Cliffs Audubon General Meeting on Wednesday, November 10, 7:00 p.m. at the Tonaquint Nature Center, with Claire Crow, Wildlife Biologist for Zion National Park, call 435 673-0996. Subject: "Wildlife in Zion". Public is welcome. 


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