Crazy as a Coot!

CRAZY  AS  A  COOT!

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

And as he [i.e., Paul] thus spoke for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad!” But he [i.e., Paul] said, “I am not mad, most noble Festus; but I speak forth the words of truth and soberness”.   (Acts 26:24-25)

But the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God, because they are foolishness unto him;  neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.   (1st Corinthians 2:14)

AmericanCoot-water-takeoff.AudubonFieldGuide

AMERICAN COOT’s water take-off (credit: Audubon Field Guide)

Isn’t it ironic how unbelievers can accuse Christians of being “crazy”, especially in conversations when a Christian (like the apostle Paul) is soberly speaking God’s weighty words of eternal truth!  In short, if you dare to explain the timeless treasure-truths of the Holy Bible, to an unbeliever (whose foolish heart is darkened – see Romans 1:21) who rejects truth reflexively, and who thus dismisses Biblical truths as “foolishness”  —  you can expect to be unjustly accused of being “crazy as a coot”.

Crazy as a Coot”:  what does that mean?  So, what kind of bird is a Coot, anyway?  (Not quite duck! – and not quite chicken!)  Why are Coots called “crazy”?

Let us consider the American Coot (a/k/a “Mud Hen”), a head-bobbing waterfowl that resembles the Common Moorhen (a/k/a Florida Gallinule or “Candy Corn Bird”), except the Coot is almost all sooty black, red-eyed, possessing greenish legs that end in individually “scallops”-lobed toes, and sporting a prominent poultry-like white bill (with an incomplete blackish ring near the bill-tip), garnished by a red spot on its slightly bulging forehead “shield”.

The expression “crazy as a coot” may at first seem inappropriate for such a well-adapted, successful waterfowl, but watch American Coots in spring and summer [!] and the appellation becomes much more suitable. These spirited and aggressive birds squabble constantly during the breeding season, not just among themselves, but also with any waterbird that has the audacity to intrude upon their waterfront property.  They can often be seen scooting across the surface of the water, charging [perceived] rivals with flailing, splashing wings in an attempt to intimidate.  Outside the breeding season, coots gather amicably together in large groups.  American Coots are known in many places as ‘Mud Hens’, and are often misidentified as a species of duck.   [Quoting Wayne R. Petersen & Roger Burrows, BIRDS OF NEW ENGLAND (Lone Pine Publishing, 2004), page 123.]

“Squabble constantly … in an attempt to intimidate” –  does that sound like anyone “crazy” that you know personally?  (If so, you really shouldn’t reply by blog-posting the name or names of whomever you are thinking of.)

AmericanCoot-water-takeoff.USFWS

AMERICAN COOT’s water take-off (USFWS photo / public domain)

Like others perceived as being “crazy”, the Coot dramatically displays a lot of head-bobbing energy!   Go, coot, go!

When swimming, it pumps its head back and forth; it dabbles but also dives from the surface. Taking off [to fly], it skitters, flight labored; the big feet trail beyond the short tail; a narrow white border shows on the rear of [each] wing.  [Quoting Roger Tory Peterson, BIRDS OF NEW ENGLAND (Houghton Mifflin, 1990), page 64.]

AmericanCoot-ID-notes-pic.Birdzilla

AMERICAN COOT (credit: Birdzilla)

Of course, it’s easy for me to link dramatic displays of energy to “craziness”, because it has been decades since I was described as highly energetic or animated (although I was actually nicknamed “Jumpin’ Jim”, about 30 years ago, when I was a young tall-building litigator in downtown Dallas).

Nowadays, if I wasn’t “low-energy” I might be “no-energy”! (Did you know that I never get tired?  What’s my secret, that I never get tired?  —  simple:  I don’t get tired; I stay tired.)   On that I’ll rest.

Of course, my real “rest” is in the Lord Jesus Christ  –  Whom to have, as my personal Savior, may seem “crazy” and “foolish” to a Gospel-rejecting unbeliever, like provincial governor Festus (recall Acts chapter 26).  However, the infallible holy Scriptures assure me that to belong to Christ is not at all “foolish” — rather, it is the power of God unto His very gracious salvation (1st Corinthians 1:18 & 15:3-4; Luke 10:20).

AmericanCoot-on-nest.MDC-DiscoverNature

AMERICAN COOT on nest (photo credit: MDC Discover Nature)


 

 

Latest Birdwatching Adventure to Lake Morton

View at Lake Morton

View at Lake Morton

We made a short birdwatching trip over to Lake Morton in Lakeland, FL recently. Dan wanted to check out something with his camera and of course I tagged along. As I have mentioned lately, my back is acting up, so I just walked about 40 feet and sat on a bench. It is amazing what you can see at the lake just sitting in one spot. I was about that far from the shore to watch all the activity swimming by.

First I was greeted with a momma Mallard swimming with her to babies.

Momma Mallard and 2 Babies at Lake Morton

Momma Mallard and 2 Babies at Lake Morton

Then a Black-necked Swan went the other way.

Black-necked Swan at Lake Morton

Black-necked Swan at Lake Morton

White Pelican made several circles over head:

White Pelican Flying Overhead

White Pelican Flying Overhead

A Male Ring-necked Duck swam by:

Ring-neck Duck Swimming

Ring-necked Duck Swimming

My attention turned to one of the Avian Wonders I am so amazed at watching. “Big Foot” Coot came by. I always like to watch their feet. Then a group of them came by and while watching them walk away from me, I actually saw a bit of the underside of those amazing feet. Here is a series of photos of the Coots:

It always amazes me how they can walk without stumbling over their own feet. Their feet are so useful in the water, but on shore they seem “weird” to me. See Birdwatching – American Coot.

Took this photo from the internet:

Lobed Feet of American Coot - Underside ©Beakycoot

Lobed Feet of American Coot – Underside ©Beakycoot

The last bird we watched before leaving was a favorite around here. A Great Blue Heron stopped by.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

There were other birds around, but for now, this gives you a little bit of my latest blessings from birdwatching. Not bad birdwatching for just sitting in one spot. The Lord is Good.

“He does great things past finding out, Yes, wonders without number.” (Job 9:10 NKJV)

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Birdwatching – American Coot

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

Child’s Book of Water Birds ~ The Coot

Rallidae – Rails, Crakes & Coots

Lee’s One Word Monday – 10/17/16

Lee’s Five Word Friday – 7/22/16

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“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

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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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Birdwatching – American Coot

Northern Flicker cropped

Northern Flicker at S. Lake Howard by Lee

Dan and I went birdwatching last week at South Lake Howard Nature Park here in Winter Haven. We just stopped by on the way home from an errand. Captured a Northern Flicker with the camera, but the video is of the Coot’s feet. I have trying to get a photo of them because they are so different from other bird’s feet. Their feet are not webbed, but sort of flattened out. We only see them down here in the winter. See the Wikipedia information below. Apparently it helps them walk on the land, but it seems that a soft soil just under the water would be “squishy” and that may help their footing. Isn’t it neat how the Lord, in Him wisdom, provided for them in such a way.

O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. (Psalms 104:24 ESV)

The American Coot (Fulica americana) is a bird of the Rallidae – Rails, Crakes & Coots Family. Though commonly mistaken to be ducks, American Coots come from a distinct family. Unlike ducks, Coots have broad lobes of skin that fold back with each step in order to facilitate walking on dry land. They live near water, typically inhabiting wetlands and open water bodies in North America. Groups of these black-feathered, white-billed birds are called covers or rafts. The oldest known Coot lived to be 22 years old.

The American coot is a migratory bird that occupies most of North American. They live in the Southwestern United States, Mexico, and the pacific coast year round, and only occupy the northeastern regions during the summer breeding season. In the winter they can be found as far south as Panama. They generally build floating nests and lay 8-12 eggs per clutch. American coots eat primarily algae and other aquatic plants but they do eat animals (both vertebrates and invertebrates) when available.

Much research has been done on the breeding habits of American Coots. Studies have found that mothers will preferentially feed offspring with the brightest plume feathers, a characteristic known as chick ornaments. American coots are also susceptible to conspecific brood parasitism, and identify which offspring are theirs and which are from parasitic females.

The American Coot measures 13–17 in (34–43 cm) in length and 23–28 in (58–71 cm) across the wings. Adults have a short thick white bill and white frontal shield, which usually has a reddish-brown spot near the top of the bill between the eyes. Males and females look alike, but females are smaller. Juvenile birds have olive-brown crowns and a gray body. They become adult-colored around 4 months of age

The American Coot has a variety of repeated calls and sounds. Male and female Coots make different types of calls to similar situations. Male alarm calls are “puhlk” while female alarm calls are “poonk”. Also, stressed males go “puhk-cowah” or “pow-ur” while females call “cooah”

See the Sounds page of All About Birds for the American Coot.

American Coots are found near water—reed-ringed lakes and ponds, open marshes, and sluggish rivers. They prefer freshwater environments, but may temporarily live in saltwater environments during the winter months.

The American Coot’s breeding habitat extends from marshes in southern Quebec to the Pacific coast of North America and as far south as northern South America. Birds from temperate North America east of the Rocky Mountains migrate to the southern United States and southern British Columbia. It is often a year-round resident where water remains open in winter. The number of birds that stay year-round near the northern limit of the species’ range seems to be increasing.

Autumn migration occurs from August to December, with males and non-breeders moving south before the females and juveniles. Spring migration to breeding ranges occurs from large February to mid-May, with males and older birds moving North first. There has been evidence of birds travelling as far north as Greenland and Iceland. It is a rare but regular vagrant to Europe. The American Coot is a highly gregarious species, particularly in the winter, when its flocks can number in the thousands. The picture below is just of one group of hundreds at Viera Wetlands that day (2012)

American Coot (Fulica americana) at Viera Wetlands by Lee

American Coot (Fulica americana) at Viera Wetlands by Lee

The American Coot can dive for food but can also forage and scavenge on land. It is omnivorous, eating plant material, arthropods, fish, and other aquatic animals. Its principal source of food is aquatic vegetation, especially algae. During breeding season, Coots are more likely to eat aquatic insects and mollusks—which constitute the majority of a chick’s diet.

The American Coot is a prolific builder and will create multiple structures during a single breeding season. It nests in well-concealed locations in tall reeds. There are three general types of structures: display platforms, egg nests and brood nests. Egg nests are typically 12 inches in diameter with a 12-15 inch ramp that allows the parents to enter and exit without tearing the sides of the nests. Coots will often build multiple egg nests before selecting one to lay their eggs in. Brood nests are nests that are either newly constructed or have simply been converted from old egg nests after the eggs hatch. They are simply larger egg nests. Egg and brood nests are actually elaborate rafts, and must be constantly added to in order to stay afloat. Females typically do the most work while building.

Females deposit one egg a day until the clutch is complete. Eggs are usually deposited between sunset and midnight. Typically, early season and first clutches average two more eggs than second nesting and late season clutches. Early season nests see an average of 9.0 eggs per clutch while late clutches see an average of 6.4 eggs per clutch. There is an inverse relationship between egg weights and laying sequence, wherein earlier eggs are larger than eggs laid later in the sequence. It is possible to induce a female Coot to lay more eggs than normal by either removing all or part of her clutch. Sometimes, a female may abandon the clutch if enough eggs are removed. Coots, however, do not respond to experimental addition of eggs by laying fewer eggs.

Incubation start time in the American Coot is variable, and can begin anywhere from the deposition of the first egg to after the clutch is fully deposited. Starting incubation before the entire clutch has been laid is an uncommon practice among birds. Once incubation starts it continues without interruption. Male and female Coots share incubation responsibility, but males do most of the work during the 21-day incubation period. Females will begin to re-nest clutches in an average of six days if clutches are destroyed during incubation.

Hatch order usually follows the same sequence as laying order. Regardless of clutch size, eight is the typical maximum size of a brood. Egg desertion is a frequent occurrence among Coots because females will often deposit more than eight eggs. Brood size limits incubation time, and when a certain number of chicks have hatched the remaining eggs are abandoned. The mechanism for egg abandonment has not yet been discovered. Food resource constraints may limit the number of eggs parents let hatch, or the remaining eggs may not provide enough visual or tactile stimulation to elicit incubation behavior. An American Coot can be forced to hatch more eggs than are normally laid. These additional offspring, however, suffer higher mortality rates due to inadequacy in brooding or feeding ability.

American Coot (Fulica americana) by Lee at Lk Morton

American Coot (Fulica americana) by Lee at Lk Morton

The American Coot, unlike other parasitized species, has the ability to recognize and reject conspecific parasitic chicks from their brood. Parents aggressively reject parasite chicks by pecking them vigorously, drowning them, preventing them from entering the nest, etc. They learn to recognize their own chicks by imprinting on cues from the first chick that hatches. The first-hatched chick is a reference to which parents discriminate between later-hatched chicks. Chicks that do not match the imprinted cues are then recognized as parasite chicks and are rejected.

Chick recognition reduces the costs associated with parasitism, and Coots are one of only three bird species in which this behavior has been observed. This is because hatching order is predictable in parasitized Coots—host eggs will reliably hatch before parasite eggs. In other species where hatching order is not as reliable, there is a risk of misimprinting on a parasite chick first and then rejecting their own chicks. In these species, the cost of accidentally misimprinting is greater than the benefits of rejecting parasite chicks.

The first evidence for parental selection of exaggerated, ornamental traits in offspring was found in American Coots. Black American Coot chicks have conspicuously orange-tipped ornamental plumes covering the front half of their body that are known as “chick ornaments” that eventually get bleached out after six days. This brightly colored, exaggerated trait makes Coot chicks more susceptible to predation and does not aid in thermoregulation, but remains selected for by parental choice. These plumes are not necessary for chick viability, but increased chick ornamentation increases the likelihood that a chick will be chosen as a favorite by the parents. Experimental manipulation of chick ornamentation by clipping the bright plumes have shown that parents show clear preferences for ornamented chicks over non-ornamented ones.

The American Coot is fairly aggressive in defense of its eggs and, in combination with their protected nesting habitat, undoubtedly helps reduce losses of eggs and young to all but the most determined and effective predators. American Crows, Black-billed Magpies and Forster’s Tern can sometime take eggs. Mammalian predators (including red foxes, coyotes, skunks and raccoons) are even less likely to predate coot nests, though nests are regularly destroyed in usurpation by muskrats. Conversely, the bold behavior of immature and adult coots leads to them falling prey with relative regularity once out of the breeding season. Regular, non-nesting-season predators include Great Horned Owls, Northern Harriers, Bald Eagles, Golden Eagles, American alligators, bobcats, Great Black-backed and California Gulls. In fact, Coots may locally comprise more than 80% of the Bald Eagle diet.

In culture – On the Louisiana coast, the Cajun word for coot is pouldeau, from French for “coot”, poule d’eau – literally “water hen”. Coot can be used for cooking; it is somewhat popular in Cajun cuisine, for instance as an ingredient for gumbos cooked at home by duck hunters.

(From Wikipedia and All About Birds with editing)

See also:

Birdwatching Trips

Rallidae – Rails, Crakes & Coots Family

American Coot – What Bird

American Coot – All About Birds

American Coot – Wikipedia

Birds of the World

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