Cute Coots

I’m watching Coots.  They are little black birds each the size of a kitten who swim in groups and eat vegetation.  They have a white beak and a fuzzy black head and chicken like feet.  In fact I think of them as Chickens of the Sea.  Cornish Game Hens of the River.

They appear indecisive and insecure.  They don’t like to be left behind on their own.  Right now I just watched a small group break into two, with two birds in the middle who couldn’t make up their little pea brains about which group to stay with.  These guys look almost relaxed.  One is grooming himself out in the middle.  I think he’s the Sweep.  Another one seemed to be acting as Lookout while the others were eating.

They swim with a neck bobbing action that looks as if it is the source of their forward momentum.  The other group is coming back now.  In what looks like sudden panic, they flap their wings and run across the water 100 feet.  They just did it again except for that one calm Lookout in the middle who is completely still like a bathtub ducky.

The larger the group, the more jumpy the birds and the more frequent the sudden mad dash to another location.  They are small and vulnerable and look like they might make a good snack for a variety of other animals.

I’ve seen motor boaters detour to go through the middle of a group of thousands just to see them take off.  I think harassing the local fauna should be a fine-able offense.  You’d think they’d encourage the little guys because they eat the weeds that wrap around motors.  When they take off in a group the noise is alarming, like a huge stack of dishes crashing to the ground.

Here’s a really fuzzy picture taken with my computer.

They seem to be equally at home in salt water as in fresh, a flexibility they share with Cormorants who also hang out in the Delta.   Has that always been true?  Or does that prove the increased salinity of the Delta?

One Response

  1. You’ve captured the essence of coot! They’ve been hanging out it in big packs (er, I guess flocks) on the grass by Seabreeze this winter. They look even more chicken-like on land. Did you know they’re also called Moor Hens? I like Cornish Game Hen of the River better. Coot coot coot

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