Skip to content

Dusky Beauties, or: Please Don’t Talk Smack About Our Coots

Each species is a masterpiece, a creation assembled with extreme care and genius. —Edward O. Wilson

I’m easily distracted by critters — no matter how common they may be. It could be an Eastern Harvest Mouse that grabs my attention for a half-hour. On a recent stroll around our wetlands, I was entranced by the coloring of our very common American Coot, as a mating pair stood in the shallow waters at dusk. Their dark grey / black feathers, white bill, and red eyes against the darkening waters of the approaching night sky was lovely. It wasn’t a Great egret in full breeding plumage, no…. But just as striking.

American Coot, Florida Wetlands

A seemingly perturbed, but lovely, Coot

There weren’t many other human visitors, but I managed to attract a doozy. Off-season, I’m alone in the wetlands; during the season, I’m accompanied by a bevy of snowbirds. A female leaned over to see what I was engaged with — it had to be an exceptional find, after all — and *snorted* before replying to her equally charming companion: UGH! UG-AH-LY! And BORING. WHAT’S THE POINT?!? I was ready to say the same about her outfit, but she stomped off to insult some other hapless bird in the nature preserve before I could reply.

American Coots may be common in certain areas — in Florida, for instance, they’re year-round residents — but ugly? Boring? Unnecessary? Honestly. Do I go to your home state and randomly insult the poor animals? No. And not to be trite, but ALL creatures deserve our respect. Just because they’re common doesn’t mean that they’re 1) not beautiful and 2) not imperative to the ecosystem.

American Coot, Florida Wetlands

Listen to Stuart Smiley, Mr. Coot — you’re just lovely

As such, here are a few tidbits about these petite and lovely obsidian creatures, courtesy of Cornell, to dispense with those boring and unnecessary commentaries:

  • Coots have a profound ecological impact in the wetlands: One estimate from Back Bay, VA, suggests that the local coot population ate 216 tons (in dry weight) of vegetation per winter.
  • They’re long-living: The oldest known American Coot lived to be at least 22 years, 4 months old!
  • Looks like a duck, swims like a duck, but….: Coots don’t have webbed feet. Each one of the coot’s toes has broad lobes of skin that help it kick through the water; these broad lobes fold back each time the bird lifts its foot, so it doesn’t impede walking on dry land, though it helps to support the bird in the mucky wetlands.
  • Coots help science! Because coots are so common and widespread, scientists will monitor them as a way of tracking problems in the environment at large.
60 Comments Post a comment
  1. I’ve seen a kajillion coots, but never their feet. What gorgeous feet!

    February 26, 2013
    • Aren’t they neat??

      I should have added something about that… It’s actually cool. They swim like ducks, but don’t have webbed feet. Each one of the coot’s toes has broad lobes of skin that help it kick through the water; these broad lobes fold back each time the bird lifts its foot, so it doesn’t impede walking on dry land, though it helps to support the bird in the mucky wetlands.

      February 26, 2013
      • I’m always amazed and delighted at the specificity of traits for particular habitats. !!

        February 26, 2013
  2. AND, beside having awesome looking chicks, how about those feet!

    February 26, 2013
    • Hee, aren’t their chicks adorable??? SO hard to photograph, though! Little bundles of black fur!

      I just added a bit of info about their feet… Can’t believe I didn’t highlight those unusual features! 🙂

      February 26, 2013
  3. I just love your blog! 🙂

    February 26, 2013
    • Aw, thanks so very MUCH!!!! 🙂 XO!!

      February 26, 2013
  4. jimbey #

    …. Speaking as an “Old Coot” myself, I believe I have a horse in this race. Thank you for pointing out that in nature, there is joy in the prosaic as well as the sublime.

    February 26, 2013
    • Hahahh! Old coot, why am I only now just putting this together….?

      Very well said, and thoroughly poetic! 🙂

      February 26, 2013
  5. I am well acquainted with coots. Funny birds because they have no graceful moments either in the water or on land. No matter. The locals feed them cheap dog kibble in the winter as well as the wild ducks. Off season at the Lake is always welcome after a summer of boom boxes and left garbage. Unfortunately many of the visitors from ‘flatland’ miss the beauty of our hideaway.

    February 26, 2013
    • Dog kibble…. I love it! 🙂

      I fear you and your area suffers the same problems that we do, here. There are many respectful (seasonal) visitors, but the amount of TRASH and debris in these protected areas, during this time, increases GREATLY. It’s terribly sad. I don’t understand…. If you visit a preserve, a protected area, why you would throw your trash into this endangered environment? Sigh.

      February 26, 2013
      • I was taught at an early age not to litter. That sticks with you and to this day I could never throw trash on the ground ….any place. Early education.

        March 1, 2013
      • VERY true…. I was, as well. Taught a complete and utter respect for the environment and its creatures. I see otherwise in all ages, these days, which is curious.

        March 1, 2013
  6. LOL! Very funny!! I visited the preserve Sunday and had nothing but the nicest people around. One poor guy came outfitted with a mega lens on a tripod and waited and waited for one of the Great Blue Herons to feed its chicks this mega fish it had swallowed. Stood around (bird that is) with a tremendously distended neck for awhile but all the way to sunset never did finish digesting it properly for the young uns.

    Personally I love coots and moorhens and think they do have the most amazing feet!! In fact way back in college when I took Ecology and Systematics, the first bird I think I ever got pointed out to me was the American Coots. So while they may not be the most dramatic bird one can photograph, they actually do have nice colors with the lime green feet and ruby eyes!! The feather detail and the pretty eyes in your pics look great!!

    But, sometimes I know I’ve spent time concentrating on a texture shot of an aquatic leaf with a fly on it or something. Someone will look to see what I am so interested in and walk away unfulfilled and silent!! Do not know what they think!! 🙂

    You are the one with the vision and knowing how great what is in the viewfinder will look. Sometimes others just can’t see the light, colors or beauty!! You can teach with your pictures!!

    February 26, 2013
    • Hee… I often find the same — people leaning over or asking on a hike what I’m looking at, then quickly leaving, because I haven’t fulfilled their beauty quotient with my focus. But this was just appalling. I was seriously ready to defend the poor bird at her…might I add…VERY LOUD insults. Why bother visiting these natural spaces if you’re looking to be mean to the living creatures? Sheesh!

      But you’re right. I just stared at her sad behind and kept on shooting; it’s my business alone. 🙂 Fascinating little guys, though.

      February 26, 2013
      • LOL!! This one really has me tickled!! Sad behind and everything!! Like the song says, Can’t please everyone!! Just because of this I am going to photograph our less glamorous avian friends more often. Gee maybe I should start with the marginally attractive but very poo ductive ducks that waddle outside my office and really seen to ruin my husband’s day. 🙂

        February 26, 2013
      • Heeee!! SO true. I’m just in awe of people spending thousands upon thousands of dollars on lenses…or simply visiting a preserve…to insult the innocent creatures therein! To me, it’s insulting the divine.

        I LOVE that idea! I actually have a beautiful portrait of a Muscovy duck in my queue…. WOW are they a nuisance. Aggressive as all get-out, since I feed strays. I’m listening to them now, in fact. 🙂 But fascinating creatures, nonetheless.

        February 27, 2013
  7. Thank you. I hope that the insulter sees your piece (I doubt) and if not in any case she will feel your vibes and be directed to either your site or one about coots in general – hence seeing the error of her ways. It may all take awhile and in the end it may be even more personal than some article, site or program. She may hear her own words come bsck to her through someone else’s mouth. Life is a ‘funny” bowl of cherries – so to speak. Keep up the good work and always a plesure visiting you!!!Mari

    February 26, 2013
    • So very true…. I love how you say that these words (and thoughts) do eventually come back to us — for better or for worse! Throw that negativity out there, especially to the innocents, and I’m sure it will come back to ya. I just kept my head ducked (hee), and kept shooting in the lovely preserve, trying to be as quiet as a mouse. 🙂

      Thanks so much for your insightful comments…. XO!

      February 26, 2013
  8. Here in Louisiana, we call this lovely creature a poule d’eau (water chicken). Most people don’t think they make good eating, but my MawMaw and my Cajun uncle thought of them as delicious. I wouldn’t know….I just gaze at them through my binoculars when they choose to frolic in the bayou in front of my house. ❤

    February 26, 2013
    • Aw, WOW…. LOVE IT! I just learned something!! I had no idea, and I’ve had friends from the bayous. You need to write up a post on ’em — that’s such a great little lesson about your area!

      February 26, 2013
      • Maybe I’ll just do that, FeyGirl. Thanks for the idea! ❤

        February 26, 2013
      • Absolutely! I LOVE learning unusual tidbits like this about species in different regions, and you listed several in this one comment alone! 🙂

        February 26, 2013
      • Ah, Stacy beat me to it! Beyond everything she said, the poule d’eau plays a part in a very famous Cajun version of the Twelve Days of Christmas – I love this animated version of the song done by Tee Jules.

        When I made the trip to Minnesota that included the Spam Museum, I stayed on one of the lakes in Fairmont. Coots are summer birds there, and then they migrate down here. They’re the first birds of winter to show up around Galveston bay. Here’s a photo of a group in Minnesota getting ready to migrate. I love the things!

        February 27, 2013
      • SO incredibly fascinating!!! I had no idea…. SO not boring.

        And, I’ve never seen such a group like this — of course, they’re never getting ready to migrate down here, since they’re year-round residents. They’re usually by themselves or with one or two others.

        February 28, 2013
  9. It’s so sad that most people only value the uncommon species,they don’t know what they are missing.

    February 26, 2013
    • So incredibly true…. And look how helpful and fascinating these guys are! So integral to the wetlands, and they can live DECADES! Just amazing. But yep, if you go out and insult ’em, you’ll really shut your eyes and heart to all the lovely things out there.

      February 26, 2013
  10. hahahahaha! how you held your tongue is beyond me! 🙂

    The greatest part of wildlife viewing is the seemingly endless variety, If every bird was a peacock how boring would THAT be?!

    February 26, 2013
    • SO very true!!! Such a GREAT point…. I love, adore seeing the beautiful larger guys — but just like with people, I LOVE LOVE LOVE all the differences!

      Ah, it was difficult. But when it comes to animals, my normally very shy self becomes louder. 🙂 I chose to duck my head in her (very loud) anger, though. Whatta character.

      February 26, 2013
  11. What an idiot that person was to make such a remark. It is distressing to be faced with how blind many people are to the wonders of nature. We have a raft of coots right now in Lake Washington near Seward Park, and they are fascinating to watch. The way they move while in a group is positively hypnotic! And, they make such an interesting pattern, with their dark bodies blending into the dark water (reflecting our gray skies, of course!), and just their light bills standing out. But, my favorite thing about coots is their feet. They look more like leaves on an aquatic plant than feet. It’s rare to see a good photo of their feet, but yours is outstanding! Thanks for sharing!

    February 26, 2013
    • I get to hear it all, in the SEASON here…. Off-season is another story altogether. People with lenses that cost more than a house, with no clue what they’re shooting — “I really don’t care what any of these birds are.” Errr….. And then those that randomly insult, that’s a joy. And the increased trash is sad to see when the snowbirds visit our supposedly protected and endangered wetlands and Everglades. But there are those, of course, who are just as enthralled by the area’s beauty, and respect it even though it’s not their *home* (but of course any part of this planet is their home, right?). THOSE are the ones I usually find, thank goodness!!

      Thanks so much for your kind comments… I didn’t realize that their unusual feet were tough to capture! This was a great time of the evening though, with the setting sun and dark waters. Just lovely! I’d love to see your coots, though. 🙂

      February 26, 2013
  12. Reblogged this on Spirit In Action and commented:
    I love the way feygirl captures the radiant beauty of each individual creature in her photos. If you have not seen Serenity Spell blog before, it is an experience not to be missed.

    I always see coots and until now did not really differentiate them from ducks, so I’ve learned something new;-) I am also continually surprised at the attitude of snowbirds who don’t seem to get the essential beauty of nature in Florida-why come all the way down here? The most out of sorts coot is likely to be far more beautiful and interesting than most humans anyway;-)
    I’ve been lucky enough to meet more of the people who appreciate nature at home and that is WHY they come to Florida, they appreciate it here too. The other sort-the ones that show up, cut down all the trees, poison everything, etc I often wonder if they could be convinced to just go with their fear of nature and *stay indoors* as it would be so much safer-for the rest of us!;-)

    February 26, 2013
  13. Have you read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coot_Club

    February 26, 2013
    • NO!!!! This looks FABULOUS, especially since in my wealth of free time (hahahah!) I’m trying to write a children’s book.

      Thank you SO much for sharing this treasure… I’m going to look for it immediately!

      February 26, 2013
      • It is a series, you should read them all 🙂 x

        February 26, 2013
      • ooooh I will! I can’t believe I’ve never seen these!!!

        THANK you again. I’m so excited. 🙂

        February 26, 2013
      • Let me know if you like them…. 🙂 x

        February 26, 2013
  14. The coot was one of the first birds I learned to identify… must have been all of five years old. So I have always had a soft spot for them. We had a pond near our house that attracted mallards, coots and red winged blackbirds. There was even an occasional Great Blue Heron. My older brother would build rafts so we could check out the wildlife and play pirates. (grin) BTW, FeyGirl, your blog has returned to the list of blogs I follow. So it looks like WP solved the problem. Glad to have you back!

    February 26, 2013
    • Aw, I love it!! How wonderful…. Playing pirate with all that wonderful wildlife. What a great experience.

      I was working with WP yesterday to resolve the issue — apparently I had some corrupted code somewhere, eeks! They kindly helped me out. THANKS so much for alerting me to the issue, though!!

      February 27, 2013
      • You are welcome. I was missing my journeys into the Florida wilds!

        February 27, 2013
  15. I think coots are cool, and these are awesome photos. ! Ditto as above, this showed up in my feed. Glad you got it worked out.

    February 26, 2013
    • Oh hoorah, thanks for the info! 🙂

      Coots ARE cool! Common but cool, heee!!! I’m loving all the love for coots.

      February 27, 2013
  16. Wow – what amazing shots of these lovely creatures. And look at their feet – they are almost pre-historic!

    February 26, 2013
    • Thanks so much! Aren’t their feet fascinating? That’s their defining part, actually (from ducks)….

      February 27, 2013
  17. That’s exactly right! I’ve really been trying to find the beauty in the common and the results are surprising. As for Coot, I’ve always liked it even those it’s common in summer. You did a great job on the photos of that difficult to photograph bird.

    February 26, 2013
    • Thanks so very much! Their babies are even a bigger hoot to photograph — little fluffs of black fur!

      People don’t realize how integral the common species are to the wetland (or any other) ecosystem…. And just how lovely they are, when looking at them with a loving eye.

      February 27, 2013
  18. Always so interesting along with your spectacular photographs.

    February 27, 2013
    • Thanks so very much! There’s always beauty and tremendous usefulness in the common…. 🙂

      February 27, 2013
  19. I love coots! We only get to see them here during migration, so for us, it’s a rare treat. And congrats on your sighting of the random animal insulter! I have yet to stumble across one in my travels… Well maybe in zoos, but those hardly count since that’s an artificial environment. 😀

    February 27, 2013
    • Heee! Thanks so much…

      I love it!!! YES, sadly, during the “Season,” I spot many of these types. I’m in awe though, why they even exist? Why visit a NATURE PRESERVE and insult the beautiful, innocent animals? Honestly. I’ve heard cursing and the most ridiculous insults hurled at our wildlife. Or the standard “that gator will eat you in a second.” Sure. And the increased trash is fabulous, too. Sigh. At least there’s an equal amount of respectful observers. I usually just stare and / or laugh at these specimens (the humans, not the animals)…. 🙂

      February 27, 2013
      • You wrote:

        Why visit a NATURE PRESERVE and insult the beautiful, innocent animals?

        That does seem like a rather odd way to engage with nature, but since I’m miles away, it just makes me laugh. 😀

        February 27, 2013
      • Honestly, if you don’t laugh, you’ll just get angry at these even-angrier people! You (as a fellow nature person) would simply not believe the things that come out of these peoples’ mouths…. Again, mainly in the Season, where there’s more of a wider population, I guess. I just…don’t…understand! Go watch TV and yell at it, instead of the creatures!

        February 27, 2013
  20. Ugly or boring: NO, never. So nice, so interesting.

    February 27, 2013
    • I agree…. REALLY fascinating little birds, for being so very common (in our area, at least). They live to be 20+ years! Wow!

      February 27, 2013
  21. There once was a visitor to the swamp,
    Who complained it was very, very dawmp.
    She saw a black Coot,
    Said: “Ugly as my boot”!
    A ‘gator said: “No!”, then went “CHAWMP”!

    February 27, 2013
    • Hahahahahah!!!!!

      Omigosh. I love this. LOVE IT!!!! I’m trying to put together a kids’ thing, and this would be so funny. 🙂

      February 28, 2013
  22. Ha! Love the coots! They are so goofy you have to love them. Also outstanding photos. They are super tough to get a good picture where the whole face is not just black. Very nicely done!

    February 28, 2013
    • I adore them, too! They ARE goofy… Always bumping into our ducks. 🙂

      Thanks so much — I just fell in love with their coloring against the darkness of the water due to the setting sun. They really are striking little animals when you really look at them.

      February 28, 2013
  23. Such a great pleasure to stumble upon a couple of great posts I still have not seen! Always marveled by your wonderful photos of our beautiful Florida habitat. enjoy summer, Eddie

    June 23, 2015
    • Thanks so much, Eddie!! I’ve been a bit distracted with life to post more often, but I’m not giving up! 🙂 I too hope you’re enjoying your season — thanks again!

      July 1, 2015

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: