Meet the Coot
|Female Coot on water|
What is a Coot?
The Coot is a small plump bird found on open water such as lakes and reservoirs. It is easily identified by the white shield on its forehead and it's white bill. Both male and female are the same, except, on closer inspection you can see the female has a longer narrower forehead and bill than the male. It is classified as being part of the Crakes and Rails family of birds. It's very long legs and long lobed, rather than webbed, feet bear testimony to that.
The Coot has a small head on a short neck and they are predominantly grey to black overall except for some white feathers on the rear edges of the wings. It is bigger than a Moorhen, most weighing on average 20-30 ounces. They have a wingspan of only 27-32 inches for a body length of 14-15 inches. This short wingspan means they are poor flyers and they trail their feet when in flight. For take-off and when escaping threats, they run along the surface of the water with splashing feet, the sound of which is quite distinctive. Also like the Moorhen, the Coot nods its head when swimming although it is less pronounced than the moorhen.
Both adults look alike, the only difference is that the female has a narrower and longer beak than the male. I can only usually tell if I see them both together.
While they might not make many headlines as flyers, on land they are surprisingly swift. When flushed out they will streak from cover to the water with giant paces of their powerful legs and feet. Indeed, too swiftly to be caught by a casual candid shot. On large bodies of water they often flock together in large 'floats'. However at Coppice Pond on the St Ives Estate where these photos were taken they tend to be more apart.
|Male Coot on Water|
Coots Nesting and BreedingThey build large nests, often in bushes overhanging the water. The hen will lay anything from six to nine eggs that hatch after 21-24 days. The chicks are unremarkably grey with a white face and chest. Like most baby birds, they make a continual piping sound letting the adults know where they are at all times. Both adults help incubate the eggs and to feed the young chicks. They will stay with the adults for about eight weeks.
What do Coots eat?Coots graze, but they also feed a lot on the water. They are very buoyant, diving down for plant life but bobbing up again very quickly. They will also eat snail, insects and tadpoles. The chicks are fed by both adults until they can dive for themselves.
How to Coots Fly?
In truth they don't fly well and then only for short distances. When they do decide to take off it takes a bit of effort. They need a long run-in to get off the water as you can see from these photos.
|Coot taking off|
|Coot trying to take off|
|Coot's 'run-in' for take off into flight|
|wing action - coot taking off|
|'and I'm off!' coot takes to flight from water|
Coot in Agressive pose
Like the moorhen, they are feisty little birds prone to fighting for territory, especially during the breeding season. These photographs were taken recently and show a typical fighting posture for coots. See how the forehead shield is held forward. They keep low to the water and plump out the tail to form a sail much like swans do. This shows an aggressive posture. When they do fight, they do so with their feet. More times than not, the aggressive display is enough to see off an opponent.
|Two coots in typical aggressive posture|
|Agressive posture in coots|
note the left-hand side coot has extended the shield on
his beak and raised his wings in a sail.