Coots

Last time I paddled the Russian River at Jenner was on Halloween.

I was able to get some photos of a group of American Coots who swam by as I was looking for a coyote in the pasture near the Highway One bridge. In the photo you can clearly see that coots eat plant material that they gather from beneath as they swim in shallow water.

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Coots with grass in their mouths.

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More grazing coots

By reading online, I learned that American Coots are omnivorous. They are happy to eat small animals as well as plants when they can. I have not seen that yet.

Breeding Habits

I also learned a little bit about their breeding habits.

According to Wikipedia, American Coots are sexually monogamous throughout their lives.

Coots incubate their clutches of eggs in floating nests. Female coots do the building of nests. Wikipedia does not reveal what the males are doing while the females are doing construction work. I have yet to see the nest of a coot, but now I know to look for them next spring during breeding season.

Sexual intercourse lasts about 2 seconds.

The females will lay about 9 eggs, not all of them in her own nest. A good percentage of her eggs, 13% according to Wiki, will be deposited in a nest of another female. And, while she’s away, another female coot may return the “favor” of laying an egg in her nest. This behavior is called “brood parasitism” by people who know more about it than I do. (So much for coot monogamy!)

Coots are preyed upon by other birds, among them bald eagles, owls, crows, and gulls. Mammals enjoy eating coots as well—including raccoons, foxes, coyotes, and bobcats. These predators can be found in the Russian River estuary. So we can thank our coots for attracting a lot of the wildlife we see in the RRE.

5 thoughts on “Coots

  1. Dan, have you seen any videos of the horrible way that mother coots treat the smaller of their chicks? They peck them on their bright red bare-skinned heads and hold them underwater until they drown. Brutal. 🙁

  2. Hi, Lyrinda—

    I have not seen those videos. I did read about their rather harsh treatment of their weaker hatchlings. Apparently they don’t have the wherewithal to rear all of their hatchlings. So they thin out the weaker members of their brood, as you say, brutally. I suppose this behavior may help increase the vigor of the species.

    If I’m lucky, I’ll get to see all this stuff, the sex, the hatchlingicides first hand next spring when I’m out among them.

    Dan

  3. Hi Dan,
    Coots come into the Russian River in the fall to eat the weeds under the water, which they dive for. They seem to prefer dead vegetation as far as I can see. You’ll have to watch their nesting somewhere else as they don’t seen to do it on this river. I’m sure the coots get a lot of snails and bugs and likely little fish when they are diving and eating the underwater vegetation.
    Nice article.
    Bob

  4. Nice close up photographs. Did you get up close or use a telephoto lens?

    We don’t have Coots in NZ ( Except for old coots like myself). Every time I read or hear the word ‘Coot’ it reminds me of one of Arthur Ransomes books for children – ‘Coot Club’ – (One book of the series beginning with ‘Swallows and Amazons’ ).

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