Beaks and Feet – American Coot

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.

American Coot – Personal Photo GKennedy
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!!!

Beaks and Feet – Roseate Spoonbill

Talk about a beak! Now this bird has a huge beak and its name gives us a hint as to its shape. Roseate Spoonbills are one of my favorite shorebirds and one that I seek each time I travel to beaches on the Gulf Coast. Their bills are “spoon” shaped, quite large and always makes me wonder how they ever manage to get food into the mouths of their young. But they do.

Nesting Roseate Spoonbill – High Island, Texas – Personal Photo GKennedy

Spoonbills are easily identified not only by their bright pink and white colors but by their distinctive bill shape. The shape of their bills gives us a clue about how they feed. Like storks, they wade through the water swishing their beaks back and forth seeking minnows, small fish, crustaceans and plant life.

Spoonbill feet also give us valuable information about how they spend the majority of their time.

Check out those feet!! – Personal Photo GKennedy






Their feet are adapted to enable them to wade in muddy waters where they spend a lot of time hunting for their food. They have three toes pointing forward and one pointed back and they are attached to semi-long legs. Think feet designed to support their weight so they don’t sink….. much like snowshoes ┬ádistribute the weight of a human walking over snow.

Roseate Spoonbills at The Rookery at High Island, Texas – Personal Photo GKennedy

One of my favorite times to observe these birds is in March and April at the Rookery in High Island. They join with other herons and egrets to build nests, lay their eggs and raise their young. I highly recommend a trip if you want to have an up close and personal view of these beautiful birds.

Happy bird searching!!!