Beaks and Feet – American Coot

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American Coots – Somerville, Texas January 2016

The beak on the American Coot isn’t all that remarkable, but the feet of this bird species is quite unique. American Coots are more closely related to Rails and Cranes than to ducks. Easily identified by its plump dark grey body, black head and short, pointed white bill, this bird can be found most anywhere throughout North America. They readily intermingle with ducks on ponds everywhere even though they are not really ducks. On land they walk more like a chicken with bobbing heads rather than the waddle we most often associate with ducks. They require a long runway for take off much like a 747 must have a longer runway to become airborne. And they are not the most graceful birds once they have lifted off. In fact to get lift off, they use their wings to raise them slightly out of the water and then literally run across the water before finally achieving full flight.

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American Coot – Personal Photo GKennedy
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American Coot Feet – Personal Photo GKennedy

But this bird’s feet are worth a closer look. Their feet are quite large and have lobes on each of the toes. No webbed feet here. Specifically designed to enable them to walk on ground or in marshy areas where they scavenge for leafy greens, snails, worms, frogs, crayfish, and other bird eggs, these feet do triple duty….enable coots to walk on land, walk on marshy areas, walk on the water prior to taking flight. In other words….these feet were made for walking!

So just because a bird is floating on water, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a duck. If it walks like a duck (and coots don’t), talks like a duck (they don’t – their call was frequently used in old Tarzan movies) or looks like a duck (bills are pointed, not rounded like ducks) then it must be a duck doesn’t apply to the American Coot.

They are interesting birds, fun to watch when taking flight, and easy to identify. So go find yourself an old “Coot”

Happy bird searching!!!

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