“C” is for Coot and Corvids: “C” Birds”, Part 2

“C”  is  for  Coot  and  Corvids:   “C”  Birds”,  Part  2

By James J. S. Johnson

Coots on Ice ©FWS

Coots on Ice ©FWS

 For Thou hast delivered my soul from death; wilt not Thou deliver my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of the living?  Psalm 56:13

As the following study of the American Coot shows (which begins our review of birds having names that begin with “C”), God has employed creatively clever bioengineering into the form and function of American Coot feet.  How much moreso, as creatures made in His image, should we appreciate His design-and-construction engineering genius, as it is displayed in our own feet and toes!

rican Coot (Fulica americana) © SDbirds-Terry Sohl

rican Coot (Fulica americana) © SDbirds-Terry Sohl

American Coot (Fulica americana)

As noted in the preceding “Part 1” of this series [see ], “C” is for as Cardinal, Chicken [regarding which fowl, see Flag That Bird – Part 1 ], Coot, Cormorant, Chicken, Coot, Chickadee, Caracara, Crane, Cuckoo, Curlew, and Corvid (including Crow and Chough) — plus many other birds with names that begin with the letter C!

In this “Part 2” review of “C” birds, however, the red-eyed American Coot (a/k/a marsh hen, mud hen, water hen, and poule d’eau, i.e., “water chicken”), as well as the crow-like birds that we collectively label as Corvids, will be featured.

Because the American Coot is a wetland “rail” (i.e., classified with the mostly-wetland-or-forest-associated birds, such as gallinules and crakes, that are “ground-living” – as opposed to dwelling in trees), it is often seen and appreciated by birdwatchers (like Chaplain Bob Webel, of St. Petersburg, and his wife, Marcia) who live at the vegetated edge of a freshwater lake or pond, or by brackish estuarial marshland or swampland.

AMERICAN COOT (12 in. [or larger, with their plumage being mostly black or dark grey, depending upon lighting, and with white under-coverts and secondary wing feather-tips]) nests in marsh vegetation, but often winters in open water.  It is the only ducklike bird with a chalky white bill [and that bill is triangular in shape, somewhat like that of a chicken’s beak].  When disturbed it either dives or skits over the water [like flapping, fluttering hovercraft!] with feet and wings.  The closely related Common Moorhen (or Florida Gallinule, 10½ in. [what ornithologist Lee Dusing has nicknamed the “candy-corn bird”]) has a red bill and forehead and a white stripe under the wing.  Both pump the neck when swimming.”

[Quoting Herbert S. Zim & Ira N. Gabrielson, Birds, A Guide to Familiar American Birds (New York, NY: Golden Press, 1987 rev. ed.), page 34.]   As the youtube video-clip (below) shows, American Coots can skim and scoot across the surface of a lake or pond, flapping just over the water surface, when they want to move quickly.

Unlike ducks, however, the coot has no webbed feet.

American Coot, showing off its cushion-padded toes

American Coot, showing off its cushion-padded toes ©i.ytimg

American Coot, showing off its cushion-padded toes

Rather, coots have long toes that sport broad lobes of skin, designed for kicking through the water, almost like synchronized mini-paddles.  These conspicuously broad foot-lobes fold backward, when a coot walks on dry land, so the foot-lobes don’t interfere with the ground surface contact – yet the foot-lobes can be used to partially support the weight of the coot (by spreading body weight over a larger surface area, like snow-shoes) when the “mud hen” travels across mucky mud (or even on thin ice!).

American Coot on Ice ©Graham Catley

American Coot on Ice ©Graham Catley

American Coot on ice!

In other words, God designed coot feet to fit the wet habitats that they fill.

American Coot standing, showing broad-lobed toes ©Johnrakestraw

American Coot standing, showing broad-lobed toes ©Johnrakestraw

American Coot standing, showing broad-lobed toes

Coots are gregarious, “socializing” with themselves and with other waterfowl.  IN particular, coots are share space, as they “fill” a wetland or aquatic habitat.  Families of coots — or even larger groups of coots — often mixed with other waterfowl (like ducks) may compose a “raft” of hundreds or even thousands!  [See, accord, American Coot entry at CORNELL LAB OF ORNITHOLOGY, “All About Birds”, with Herbert K. Job, BIRDS OF AMERICA (Doubleday, 1936), pages 214-215, both cited within Steve Bryant, “American Coot”, in OUTDOOR ALABAMA.

American Coot flock “rafting” (©Jack Dermid)

American Coot flock “rafting” ©ARKive-Jack Dermid

American Coot  flock “rafting”

For a video clip featuring American Coots in action (in Florida), sometimes interacting quite boisterously, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J5dPaWH785w .  (Notice:  this youtube footage also includes brief footage of a few other birds, so don’t be surprised when the first bird shown is a Florida Gallinule!)

American Coot  in water

It is interesting to note that the American Coot has a migratory range that covers almost all of North America, from Panama (in the south) through the more temperate zones of Canada (in the north).  As is often the case, a helpful range map has been prepared by Terry Sohl, Research Physical Scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey, frequently publishing on topics of land usage, ecology, cartography, climatology, and geography, including biogeography.  As Terry Sohl’s range map shows, this wetland bird is a permanent resident of America’s West and Southwest (west of the Mississippi River), a breeding resident of America’s northern prairie states, a nonbreeding resident of America’s Southeast and East Coast states, and a migrant in some parts of Appalachian Mountain range zones.  [NOTE: the above-referenced Terry Sohl range map is not shown here, because Mr. Sohl, as a self-described “hardcore atheist”, does not want his maps associated with a Christian blogsite.]

American Coot, with young, eating aquatic plant ©Oiseaux-Tom Grey

American Coot, with young, eating aquatic plant ©Oiseaux-Tom Grey

American Coot, with young, eating aquatic plant.

So what do American Coots like to eat?

Mostly duckweeds and other wetland emergent plants (especially seeds and roots), lacustrine algae, small mollusks (like snails), little fish, tadpoles, and wee crustaceans, as well as a mix of aquatic bugs.  [See, accord, Herbert S. Zim & Ira N. Gabrielson, Birds, A Guide to Familiar American Birds (New York, NY: Golden Press, 1987 rev. ed.), pages 134-135.]

American Coot ©iytimg

American Coot ©iytimg

But American Coots are not the only common bird dominated by black plumage. Consider the common crow, or the raven  —  both of which belong to another group of “C birds”:  CORVIDS, an amazingly intelligent group of crow-like songbirds, including the likes of crows, ravens, jackdaws, rooks, choughs, jays, treepies, magpies, and nutcrackers.

For  a few examples, consider that Lars Jonsson’s BIRDS OF EUROPE (Princeton University Press, 1993), pages 487-495, includes the following corvids of Europe:  Siberian Jay, Eurasian Jay, Spotted Nutcracker, Eurasian Magpie, Azure-winged Magpie, Alpine Chough, Red-billed Chough, Jackdaw, Common Raven, Brown-necked Raven, Fan-tailed Raven Carrion Crow, Hooded Crow, and Rook.

Rook (Corvus frugilegus) pair perching on wooden fence ©BBCI Mike Wilkes

Rook (Corvus frugilegus) ©BBCI Mike Wilkes

Rook (Corvus frugilegus) pair, perching on wooden fence

In North America we can expect to find corvids quite terrific, ranging from the Atlantic to the Pacific:  American crow, Northwestern Crow, Common Raven (including the subspecies “Western Raven”), Green Jay, Blue Jay, Steller’s jay, various scrub jays, Grey Jay, Black-billed Magpie, Yellow-billed Magpie, Yucatan Jay, Pinyon Jay, Clark’s Nutcracker, and more!

For general information on corvids, see ornithologist Lee Dusing’s insightful birdwatching articles: “Corvidae — Crows, Jay”, listing more corvids that you or I will ever witness in this lifetime!  —  as well as Lee’s Birds of the Bible – Raven I, Lee’s Birds of the Bible – Raven II, and Lee’s  Birds of the Bible – Raven III.

Corvid Chart - Differences Between Types of Corvids ©Autodidactintheattic

Corvid Chart – Differences Between Types of Corvids ©Autodidactintheattic

For some world history-linked appreciation of corvids (such as ravens, jackdaws, and magpies), see also 5 of my earlier articles:

A Diet of Jackdaws and Ravens” [posted at https://leesbird.com/2015/09/16/a-diet-of-jackdaws-and-ravens/ ]; and

Northern Raven and Peregrine Falcon: Two Birds Supporting the Manx Coat of Arms; and

Steller’s Jay:  A Lesson in Choosing What is Valuable; and

Flag That Bird Part 5, featuring the Australian Magpie; and

Providential Planting:  The Pinyon Jay”, CREATION EX NIHILO, 19(3):24-25, summer AD1997.

Of course, many books could be  —  and, in fact, have been  —  written about  corvid birds.  But this article is already long enough.

Alpine Chough, in snowy French Alps ©Static1-Philip Braude

Alpine Chough  ©Static1-Philip Braude

Alpine Chough, in snowy French Alps

So, God willing, the next contribution to this alphabetic series will be some “D“ birds – such as Dippers, Doves, and Ducks (including Dabblers and Divers).  So stay tuned!    ><> JJSJ


Lee’s Addition:

American Coot showing feet by Lee LPkr

American Coot showing feet by Lee Lake Parker

Like Dr. Jim’s article above, I have also been fascinated by the feet of the American Coot. See Birdwatching Term – Lobed Feet and  Birdwatching – American Coot where I have a video of one walking down to the shore. He almost steps on his own feet.


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