You may think coots are ducks! They hang out around marinas, ponds, and shorelines of calm waters like ducks, sort of look like ducks and flock like ducks – but ducks they are not. One look at that weird foot in my sketch and it’s clearly not a duck – but in the rail family with those birds that elusively hang out in cattails and bulrushes. Coots are not definitely NOT elusive, but gregarious and social, and can get downright angry defending their territory.
While there are plenty of strange things about this bird, like the conical down-drooping bill and yellow feet that fold back to help it walk, it’s the color of the chicks that give me pause. It’s called chick ‘ornamentation’ and several species have it. The baby’s bill and head are violently red-orange with flaming little yellow feathers down on the body. This is NOT the way to hide from predators if you’re a little bird. But on the other hand, this means the parent can see them, and the brighter the chick, the better chance it gets the best food. When you’re a chick with a dozen greedy siblings, that’s important. It might be one reason the parents are such tyrants, attacking any other bird or animal that even comes close.