I made a crude nest box by nailing pieces of plywood together and hung it under the boat's swim step. I don't know if the coots would try to make a nest, but its security and privacy make it a good place to leave food when I am away. Missy Coot shown below, always likes to "play house" on any platform in the water.
Starvin' Marvin, the socially malajusted coot, was able to take control of a twenty-five yard wide territory just north of gate number 3. A new female came to join him as shown in the picture below. While he was fighting, she (at the left) would peck at his adversary. As a team, he and his new mate easily struck fear into all of the other male coots, even though he is still a rather small coot.
Later, he would stupidly chase her away in his quest to get food by attacking other wild coots being fed at the parking lot. The other male coots have been able to understand this and cautiously return to be fed. He is now less powerful without the female "mate" as she wanders away without being fed. She is very shy, but is now coming up to the sidewalk for food with the other wild coots.
When I go away from the boat and return later, Beaky Coot is usually excited and complains loudly by squawking, if he hasn't been fed in more than 45 minutes or so. This time he used this "flapping" display on me. He last used this display in the spring of 2006 when he was surprised to discover a pair of mallards walking on the dock in the same place. The context of this display is unknown but he was obviously very excited.
Coots continue to be killed by cars on Marina Parkway. Chula Vista Animal Control stopped picking up the dead birds, so they started to accumulate.
About the 26th of January there was a "coot massacre" on Marina Parkway when several coots were killed. I didn't see this, but the next day the dead were all gone from the street. At the rate of four or five dead coots every week, we will probably lose about half of the winter migration this way. The coots only started wintering here when the Port of San Diego took over maintenance of the park, and started overwatering the grass. The coots love the fresh water and emergent vegetation but there is just not sufficient forage for the seventy or eighty coots here this year. A small female coot was the only survivor, but she died at Project Wildlife that night.
I still see new coots arrive here that seem to know me, but I don't recognize them. I believe these birds simply travel around in the winter until they find a place where they can stay until March 15 brings spring migration. I counted eight of them at the sidewalk. They are often very hungry when they arrive!
Female coots have a display that involves standing on any platform slightly above the water and greeting an approaching male. The female extends her neck downward, clicking her beak and clucking softly while fluffing up her feathers and slapping one of her feet. Missy Coot does this to Beaky Coot whenever she gets the chance, preventing him from climbing up the steps to eat.
Late in January, the roles were reversed when Beaky Coot stood on the steps "clucking" when Missy approached, doing the best he could in his male voice. He did not slap his foot on the step however. This display is unusual for a male coot. I had to check the color of his feet in the picture to be sure I wasn't imagining this.
This male coot with a broken wing has been a permanent resident in the marina for at least four years. He has the remarkable ability to recognize people who will feed him, and will follow me everywhere (as best he can). It took a while to realize this since coots paddle around very slowly, and can't get out of the water without help. This is not a "tame" bird, and can take care of himself. He always picks a safe place to sleep, and is terrified of the usual predators, and anyone with a fishing pole!
His name comes from the bird's use of his beak to explore and examine things, and his interface with people's fingers when fed. However, the beak is really rather feeble since he makes quite an effort to break up a small cracker to eat it. He can't eat anything much bigger than a pea, and this is quite a handicap when forced to compete with other birds for food. The beak seems sharp on the end, but actually has so much overbite that he can't pick up a small object from a flat surface without laying his head down on one side. When he is finished eating rolled oats, the side of his head will be covered with white dust from the crumbs. The sides of his beak must be sharp, since he can snip off blades of grass.
All birds shed and regrow their feathers every year. Coots molt in July. Beaky needs his wings to "hop up" onto the boat. With his new feathers, Beaky can get around much easier now. He is very clumsy walking on a flat surface, and prefers to stay over the water. Sometimes he appears to get stuck with one foot standing on the other. He has great difficulty going down steps, reaching as far as he can with one foot, and tumbling down a few inches onto his beak. Now that I understand this, I let him walk around until he is over water to safely jump down. While molting, coots are relatively helpless, afraid of any disturbance, and hesitate to come out of the water to eat.
Coots appear thoughtful and cautious in their actions, and it's usually obvious what he is thinking. It's important to be patient, and not try to hurry him along.
He can't get out of the water without this step on the boat. Even steps are difficult; coot nests are usually made with a ramp leading to the water. Fresh drinking water is critical to all birds. The only reason birds are here is because fresh water is available from the storm drains when the lawns and shrubbery is watered. It took a couple of weeks to train the coot to drink from a cup. The only way to do this is to depend on the coot's own curiosity and foraging behavior. Now the coot will see any shape or color cup as a source of water. He once tried to stick his beak in my boat (travel) coffee mug, but was thwarted by the plastic cap inside.
This bird has a somewhat relaxed personality, but is always alert. He seems to use both his peripheral vision (to look at casual objects) and binocular vision (to look at something important). Coots don't have much facial expression, but body language always tells me when a dog, cat, hawk, or other danger is nearby. If something is bothering him, he points his beak directly at it.
The one thing the coot most fears is the occasional sea lion or harbor seal that strays into the marina basin. Safety for a coot means jumping in the water, but when the threat is in the water, the coot can go into a real panic. He crouches down on the boat and makes himself as small as possible, holds still, and keeps his eyes open until the seal is gone. He was literally shaking in fear when this picture was taken.
I have watched the large pupils in the coot's eyes carefully, and can see
that eyeball movement is very restricted compared to our eyes. Perhaps the coot
uses his head
bobbing movement to emulate the quick darting movement of
human eyes. The coots have poor night vision when they come to the boat for food
before sunrise. It seems their greatest difficulty is in seeing things nearby,
and they often fumble and peck around to find food held out to them.
It's not unusual for the coot to sit down flat on his belly. At times, he may seem reluctant to move around very much. Coots prefer to eat small amounts of food every hour or so. He will almost always eat more if food is offered by hand, but may not want to stand up and get it himself. The coot has a long flexible neck and can grasp the food dish with his beak to move it closer or turn it around.
I have started growing meal worms as a diet supplement for the coot. Worms are grown in oat bran with a slice of apple or other fruit thrown in for moisture. After four weeks, my worms changed to cocoons and hatched out into beetles that breed and lay eggs. When the beetles are done laying eggs, they are supposed to die. By the middle of February, dozens of pin size worms have hatched. I start transferring these worms to another enclosure (as soon as I can see them) to prevent cannibalism.
In July 2005, I have become tired of the worms that seem to be growing smaller, eating each other, and attracting flies. I dumped them in the trash and now buy meal worms from the pet shop. I obtained some "super worms" and found that the coots wouldn't eat them. The super worms also stink.
Ornithological journals say that corn is high in carbohydrates and makes a good high energy diet. The coot now seems to prefer corn to worms.
In fact, most migratory coots I encounter here will not eat corn. The food a coot will prefer probably depends upon his flock. The flocks seem to be organized by the sort of food they eat, and will all be foraging for food together.
I wanted to try commercial poultry feed for the coots to see if I could find a more nutritious diet. Six samples were obtained from a feed store. The coot knew what he had to do, and obediently tried them all. It seemed like he might tolerate the Purina laying mash, and showed some interest in the wild bird feed (probably because of the dried corn). The coots really didn't like any of it, and probably only captive animals would eat it. This feed is relatively cheap at 40 cents a pound, but if you wouldn't eat it, wild coots probably wouldn't eat it either.
A year ago I would put out an open bag of bulk rolled oats and a coffee cup with water. The coot could come and go, and eat whenever he wanted, and not make a mess.
Blackbirds were beginning to be a problem, eating the coot's food and hanging around in large numbers. To thwart the blackbirds, I hid the food under the bath towels that are always around the boat. I showed Beaky where I hid his food and Thirty minutes later, but never before, he was busy wadding up all the towels he could find searching for food. A week later, the blackbirds began looking under the towel also.
Since he got the idea that the food is hidden, he will continue to turn everything over until he finds what he wants, or throws everything over the side into the bay. Cups and towels can often be recovered at low tide.
By 2006 it became obvious that playing with the coot up on the boat was very dangerous. A hawk attack proved that I could not protect the coot from everything, and if he ever fell inside the boat's cockpit while I was away and could not get out, he would be an easy meal for any predator. Since then, the coots stay on the dock.
I bought a cup of rice pudding at the RV Resort, and offered some to the coot. The coots really love this stuff, and I suppose it is very nutritional. It has plenty of fat, sugar, and starch, and probably some calcium from the milk. It may help the coots build up fat for the winter cold.
At the end of 2006 Reynaldo's quit making the pudding, so I had to develop my own recipe and start producing rice pudding myself. Keep in mind that coots are very sensitive to taste and smell so I wanted to duplicate the original commercial pudding as well as possible. The following is my best effort at a recipe for coot pudding.
The coots will not tolerate adding eggs in any form, so this is an egg-free recipe.
Three quarters cup of long grain white rice
Two and one quarter cups of water
One cup of whole milk
One cup of heavy whipping cream (not whipped)
One half cup of sugar
Two teaspoons of vanilla extract
Add the rice and water to a saucepan and heat to a boil. Cover the pan and simmer for twenty minutes. It will look more like mush than rice, but the texture of the finished pudding is most important. Dump the rice and other ingredients into an open casserole dish and bake in the oven for thirty minutes at 350 degrees F. Stir at the beginning and, occasionally afterward (with a wooden spoon) to avoid a burned skin on the top. Pour it into a food storage container and refrigerate overnight.
The final texture of the pudding cannot be easily determined until it cools completely, and is critical to the birds. It should be loose enough to allow the coots to bite into it. It should stick together well enough to allow them to pick up a large wad of it when in a hurry.
After I had been playing with this coot, and been quite close to him after a couple of years, I tried to do coot research on the internet. I was quite confused and frustrated when many things I read just didn't make sense. Here in the small marina basin there are usually only about five or six coots in the winter, and it is easy to see them as individuals and understand their behavior.
Coot behavior and general lifestyle is surprisingly varied and complex. I can only guess that most of the information available is based on distant casual observations and inaccurate assumptions. The most accurate and professional study of coot behavior widely available is from the Wilson Bulletin THE DISPLAYS AND CALLS OF THE AMERICAN COOT June, 1952 (volume 64 no. 2) pp 83-97. This and five other ornithological journals are available from the University of New Mexico at: http://elibrary.unm.edu/sora/. I find this source of information to be quite professional and accurate, and follows my own experience and observations. At least 15 articles are available relating to coots, but you can search for information on your favorite bird at this site. For the links to other sites below, Caveat Emptor !
The following comments and examples are my own opinion, taken from my observations, or things I have read that seem reasonable. It's unfortunate that the coots don't nest or mate here and I can't observe that behavior in detail.
It seems that most coot misinformation comes from the difficulty of determining the sex of birds being observed. Each coot has its own "voice" or sound. The male has a relatively higher pitched "squawk" similar to the sound of air brakes on some large trucks. The female is recognized by a low pitched croak or nasal "punt" sound. Each bird can vary the sound somewhat by making softer "peeps" or short "yips", but usually with the same voice. At times of stress, the male can produce a somewhat higher pitched yip followed by the normal squawk. The female can produce a low pitched "clucking" sound, hence the common name "mud hen". Researchers have noted how difficult it is to interpret bird sounds in writing, but this still doesn't seem to discourage ambiguous and sometimes comical attempts like this.
Except for migration and common defense, coots are always defending their own small patch of real estate. Two determined coots may fight to the death with one holding the other under water until it drowns. The majority of calls and displays of the coot relate to defending territory.
Coots fight in the water by slapping each other with their feet, and trying to force the other coot under the water. Most often the defeated coot will swim a long way under water to escape.
Regardless of their territorial nature, coots always flock together for protection. Everyone knows how a school of fish works to confuse predators, but coots will join any other species that happens to be handy. A study in Germany showed that coots that joined geese while foraging were able to spend more time eating and less time watching for danger, and thus improve their foraging efficiency. The few coots here often hang around the periphery of mallard duck groups. A coot would be helpless to take food from the larger and more powerful goose or duck, but can take advantage of the other bird's alertness to warn of danger.
When a large sea lion appeared eating a fish, Beaky the Coot was horrified and immediately joined a pair of grebes nearby, until they were safely across the open water. He went to the far side of the marina basin and stayed away for the rest of the day.
I have noticed that this coot comes to me and stays nearby even when not interested in eating. I have guessed that this behavior is similar and is only for security.
Two coots often turn their backs to each other and fan their tail feathers as a peacock would. Many observers immediately see this as a mating behavior, but are taking it completely out of context. This display always follows a territorial dispute, at the border of two territories, and mostly involves two males. Any number of coots up to five or six can participate. The paired display is similar to the danger display shown above except the head is usually lowered in the hostile attitude. The danger warning display is considered friendly with the bird's head raised.
The following shows a charging coot with a ruff on his neck attacking another male coot that is giving the paired display. The charging coot broke off his attack and ran away upon seeing the other coot's display.
Unlike most birds, coots lay a number of eggs (usually averaging nine per clutch) but start incubation upon laying the second egg. This means they hatch out at the rate of approximately one per day for about eight or ten days. This obviously causes a logistics problem in rearing the young. A pair of coots usually builds eight or nine nest like structures for different purposes. Two nests are used for babies. One is used for incubation of the eggs while a second one may be used for rearing the chicks. Other "nests" can be used for display, mating, or sleeping (roosting).
Since coots start continuous incubation early in the laying period, this would reduce the possibility of death from chilling of the eggs. However, after the chicks are hatched, the parents will tend to shift from incubation to brooding when they see a large number of mouths to feed. At some point they may dump unhatched eggs in the water and concentrate on feeding the new chicks. Usually fewer than eight chicks hatch.
You may hear stories about coots killing their young for whatever reason. Because of their asynchronous incubation, an age difference of as much as ten days is common in a large clutch. Babies with age differences of ten days may look quite different, and mothers are seen alternately feeding and attacking their own chicks in confusion. They will not care for another coot's chick. The parents may also "hide" some of their younger babies while foraging with their other chicks. This also causes great disagreement among human researchers who place the coots incubation period as anywhere from 14 to 30 days. The actual incubation period is 23 to 25 days.
The size and shape of the frontal shield at the top of the upper mandible is unique for each bird. Researchers made this assumption since a bird may attack its mate from behind by mistake, immediately stopping when face-to-face. I have found that the shape of any bird's frontal shield may vary slightly over a period of several weeks, returning back to normal. The cause of this is unknown. Researchers reported being able to recognize individual birds by their "face". I found this ability to extend to humans also, since coots can recognize people as individuals and will patiently follow people who will feed them and avoid others. Beaky was once confused and frightened by my wearing a bicycle helmet, but he soon overcame the problem of hats. I have seen him staring at my shirt recently, apparently trying to resolve the difference in my winter clothes. Coots will also study my face carefully, especially if I do something unexpected.
The size of the frontal shield is also important in indicating the social status of a bird. A dominant male defending territory will have a more swollen shield. This is the effect of increased testosterone in the male. Experiments with drug implants in non-aggresive males shows that this drug causes a swollen frontal shield. This makes other birds afraid of the newly swollen male, but it does not make the male aggressive and other birds soon ignore this.
Many observers see the coot's habit of bobbing its head back and forth as a cute idiosyncratic behavioral tick, or relate it to leg movement. If you watch a coot's leg movements, you can see that it is not related. As an example, coots don't move their heads at all when charging or patrolling with an aggressive posture. Researchers have found that the head movement relates to the type of food the bird is hunting while foraging. The theory is that the head movement is used to resolve a parallax problem in seeing things in water.
My theory is that, since the coot has similar head movements when out of the water, this is a way of getting depth perception from a single eye. A coot often studies me with one eye while darting its head side to side. The bird's eyes are so far separated that adapting to this technique could be a way of getting binocular vision with one eye.
Coots are like people. Lifestyle and gender roles in foraging, nesting, incubation, rearing chicks, and defending territory can vary. What I have read about coots makes me feel that the behavior of this one coot, in his relationship to people, is perhaps uncommon, but not surprising. New migrant coots may come to me, run away from me, or ignore me. They all have different personalities. You shouldn't think you can make any sense out of one or two observations. Sometimes it seems almost automatic to make hasty, inaccurate conclusions, and present them as if they were fact.
1. Randler, C. (Issn: 1524-4695). "Coot Benefit from Feeding in Close Proximity to Geese" WaterbirdsVolume 27 issue 2
2. Friley and Bennett. June 1938. "The American Coot in Iowa". The Wilson Bulletin. Volume XLV pp 81-86
3. Gullion, G. June 1952. "The Displays and Calls of the American Coot". The Wilson Bulletin. Vol 64 No. 2 pp83-97
4. Henshaw, F.W. January 1918. "Some Pugnacious Coots" The Condor . Volume XX p 92
5. Gullion, G. March 1953. "Observations on Molting of the American Coot". The Condor . Volume 55 pp 102-103
6. Gullion, G. Sept 1951. "The Frontal Shield of the American Coot". The Wilson Bulletin Volume 63, No 3 pp 157-166
7. Gullion, G. July-August 1953 "Territorial Behavior of the American Coot" The Condor Volume 55 No 4 pp 169-186
8. Gill, F. May 1964. "The Shield Color and Relationships of Certain Andean Coots". The CondorVolume 66 pp 209-211
9. Hendrickson, G. Sept 1936. "Observations on Nests and Young of the Coot"The Wilson Bulletin. pp 216-218
10. Gullion, G. Nov. 1950. "Voice Differences Between Sexes in the American Coot"The Condor. Vol 52 pp 272-273
11. Arnold, T.W. 1994. "Effects of Supplemental Food on Egg Production in American Coots". The Auk 111(2):pp337-350
12. Gullion, G. Oct. 1954. "Reproductive Cycle in American Coots" The Auk Volume 77 pp 366-412
13. Schwartz and Schwartz. Oct. 1952. "The Hawaiian Coot". The Auk Volume 69 pp 446-449
14. Fredrickson, L. July 1969. "An Experimental Study of Clutch Size of the American Coot" The AukVolume 86 pp 541-550
15. (General Notes) July 1972. "Effect of Water Depth on Diving Times in the American Coot (Fulica Americana). The Auk. Volume 89 pp 665-667
16. Sutherland and Maher 1987. "Nest-site Selection of the American Coot in the Aspen Parklands of Saskatchewan" The Condor Volume 89 pp 804-810
I don't remember, but this bird with the broken wing was around at least three or four years ago before I noticed that he was following me everywhere to get a small bit of food. I made it my policy that he wouldn't get fed unless he recognized me and took food from my hand. He seemed to want to get up out of the water in the worst way, so I made a small step on the back of the boat.
Beaky the Coot has a mate! She follows him everywhere and they are
inseparable. She is afraid of me, but quickly learns to recognize me, and will
take food from my hand if Beaky is nearby. Both coots together are braver now,
and come up on the dock to forage if I am working there. The picture shows the
bowing, billing, and nibbling behavior indicative of a mated pair.
From looking at pictures that show the color of her feet, I now believe that she was his original mate and about the same age. He has not been as close to any of the subsequent female mates since her. At times he seems bitter and vindictive toward new females.
It is time to migrate. Both coots are eating and drinking more than usual, and are both gone the second week in March. The next day, Beaky returns, unable to fly with his broken wing. All the other coots are gone.
Beaky is less active and eating very little. He holds up his left foot which seems discolored and swollen. He still drinks, so I gave him antibiotics in his drinking water. After eight days, he seems better, and starts to recover. Months later, a small lump on his left foot still seems to bother him at times, however.
Beaky has been struggling to fly every day and one day, I watched him fly by the back of the boat, land on the water, and paddle back to me. It's too late to migrate now, and he probably can't fly too far anyway.
Beaky has given up on flying now, and in fact, can't even get up on the boat.
He is shedding feathers every time he tries to use his wings. Coots molt in late
July, and by August he seems to have a new coat of feathers, and can
around much better. He is eating more, and building up fat and feathers for
It's time for the other coots to return from their summer nesting, but only a
few isolated stragglers come and go. Beaky's mate has not returned. He has met
at least two new single female coots, but nothing
takes. Otherwise, he
spends the rest of the year patrolling his territory and chasing away any other
male coots, or mated pairs.
Sometimes he seems confused by the rain, but has made it through the remarkable cold weather this winter with no problems. His wings seem to be getting stronger and only needs one step to flap his way up on the boat.
On a windy and rainy morning Beaky the Coot was standing next to me in the back of the boat when he slipped and fell into the cockpit. Without thinking, I reached out and tried to catch him as I would any fallen item on the boat. As I fumbled, I found he didn't want to be caught. In fact, he was terrified and probably thought he would be my next meal. For a couple of weeks after that, he was afraid of me, and wouldn't come on the boat. However, he still wanted to be fed, and would follow me around and take food from my hand as usual. Perhaps he resolved this moral dilemma by blaming the boat. Now, three weeks later, I was able to tempt him to climb back up on the boat for some oats. He is very cautious about checking the part of the boat where he fell, to make sure the monster that grabbed him is not there.
This is a reminder that the coot is a wild animal, not a domestic pet, and carries with him all the experiences and limitations of his kind. He therefore, deserves to be treated with respect.
The several migrant coots have become a source of consternation for Beaky the coot. When they stay outside his territory, he squawks furiously when he sees me feed them. Late in the month three of them ventured inside his territory and were cornered inside the docks. He was forced to fight two of them in coot fashion, grasping the other bird by the neck feathers and slapping it with his feet to hold it under water. They both escaped by swimming away under water. One female remained, and Beaky started courting her by bowing his head. She seemed to respond, but after an hour, she wandered away.
The migrant coots gave an important insight into coot mentality. Perfectly wild animals don't expect other animals to come along and feed them. The coots had a problem figuring out how to get a cracker from me. The small friendly female would rush up to me and not know what to do. She would look around on the ground, and not find the cracker I held in my hand. Finally, I forced it into her face and she took it. Now, she knew how to get the food, and would get fed regularly while the other coots did not. They were furious, hopping around and squawking, not knowing what to do. For a while two aggressive males tried attacking me and biting my hand as hard as they could to get the cracker. This certainly made sense to them since they would usually fight for food.
Beaky was eventually able to separate a new mate from a transient pair of coots. It seemed unusual that he would tolerate the enemy coots near the boat, but he soon went to work and chased the male away. She apparently liked him and stayed for about two weeks. Beaky appears bitter and vindictive, attacking his new mate whenever she ignores him or turns to me for food. She willingly "nibbles" his head, but he never made any effort to please her. Now in April, she is gone, along with all the other migratory waterfowl. Beaky is sick again, and eating very little, but still hangs around me and shows no inclination to fly or try to migrate.
Only two male coots remain to pester Beaky around the back of the boat. He must chase them away when they come for food. Before the last week in April, they are gone. Beaky suffered from a minor illness for a few weeks and recovered the last week in April. With fewer other birds around, he is able to come up on the boat every day to eat corn and oats. The worm ranch in full production now, so that he gets a handful of worms every morning.
This is unrelated to Beaky the Coot, but I have come to some conclusions after my winter observations of the wild migratory coots. Many migratory coots are organized into small "tribes" of about a dozen members that forage and travel together. While foraging they may be spread over a large area of fifty yards or more but share the same taste in food and foraging skill. They may stay for a day or as long as several months. When they are gone they may be suddenly replaced by another tribe of similar but different coots. It took a day for me to notice not only that a few specific individuals were missing, but that all the new coots were, in fact, different coots. They didn't recognize me either! It seems to me that coots vary as individuals, but small groups of them travel together sharing the same taste and abilities unique and different from other groups of coots.
The coot has two different hailing calls. The common squawk call is used when the coot has someone in sight. The coot will occasionally use this call or an abbreviated "click" version of it when he sees me and wants to be fed. The remarkable "coo-wah" call is used when the coot is trying to find someone who should be there, but is not in sight. I seldom hear this call, but it was unmistakable when I had stayed on the boat overnight on Independence Day weekend and did not get up early enough for the coot to find me. I expect the coot has used this call many times in the past but I was never there to hear it.
The coot completed molting and now has a new coat of feathers.
About the second week in August, someone badly frightened the coot near my boat when I was gone. Now he is afraid to come up on the boat and is suspicious of me when approaching first thing in the morning. I expect that the diver that cleans the bottom of the boat may have startled him since that is about the time the diver was there.
Coots are quite good at expressing their feelings about something nearby, but it is difficult for him to express an abstract concept on something that varies in time or distance. He will worry about this for only a few weeks, but will probably never be comfortable again. In the past he seemed to enjoy standing on the back of the boat to view his territory for hours at a time, but now knows that it is a dangerous place.
The coot is still afraid to come up on the boat but now comes up on the steps. He has improved in his use of his feet to hop down steps so that he is able to do this routinely. Experiments with a coot decoy show that the coot does not recognize the decoy as being real, but responds to a mirror as if it were another coot.
Beaky the dominant male coot was defeated in battle by another large male coot and driven from his territory. Ten days later the new coot is gone and Beaky returns to his territory when I stop feeding birds there. At the end of the month a new female coot is with Beaky and they appear to be bonding as mates. She is well trained and docile.
Beaky the Coot has returned to climbing onto the boat after a three month absence. The relationship with a new mate continues and she expresses herself with a variety of displays and calls. She uses the danger display on intruders and stamps her foot on the dock at them. Both she and Beaky use the dabbling display as a greeting when separated.
The water level at Lake Murray has been reduced for construction on the dam. Two or three hundred coots there have been forced away from their normal feeding and nesting areas.
Little has changed at Lake Murray except that the coots there have changed from foraging for food in the bushes to begging food from people. I found pairs of coots defending territory at the north end of the lake where there are good nesting spots with reeds and growing vegetation. They are probably maintaining normal territory adequate for their support, while the other coots in small flocks are driven out on the lake into neutral territory.
The female pet coot was gone on migration on schedule the 16th of March as expected. Beaky is not worried, and continues on alone patrolling his territory. Different coots are still at the nearby park, but are probably recent travelers on spring migration. The coots along the sidewalk are still here, but many of them may be different coots. One female remains here at the beginning of April 2006.
The starving coots are gone from Lake Murray and the population there is limited to several local mated pairs of coots. The previously starving coots were winter migrants. Many of the coots suffered from an eye disease caused by parasites in the water. There is no indication of starvation or disease in the local coots. Beaky the Coot wanders the marina aimlessly with a remarkable lack of any kind of birds.
The coot is not sick this spring but seems to be taking the solitude harder than usual for spring migration. He disappeared for a week and I was unable to find him, but it appears that he never left the marina. He is eating little, but seems to do better when I arrive at the marina at sunrise to greet him. He used an unusual wing flapping display on a pair of mallards that appeared unexpectedly on the dock. I am feeding him meal worms and using a liquid vitamin supplement in his drinking water to prepare for the molt coming next month.
The coot seems healthier and is eating more at the end of June. I am absent from the marina for a few days at a time, and he is foraging with a small family of juvenile ducks that are about his size.
The coot was extremely excited about finding a perfect nest site and continued to call me until I went over to look at it. He was gathering sticks, twigs, and trash under the stern of a dinghy on a plastic float. After a week he gave up on the nest.
The coot struggles through molting helped by worms and vitamins. A new type of meal worm called super worms does not make a good protein diet supplement because of bad taste.
Beaky the Coot continues to be nervous and wary after loss of his wing feathers. He had the same problem last year. A new female arrived on the last day of September but she seems to have wandered away.
The new female is named "Missy", and quickly establishes her position as Beaky's new mate.
She is slow to communicate, but has a complete vocabulary. She quickly learns about getting food from the dishes on the dock, and becomes more easily handled and hand fed.
Missy Coot has become very expressive, and will cluck, slap her foot, and fluff up her feathers at Beaky Coot. This brings questions about whether these displays are instinctive or learned. Beaky appears weak, but recovers quickly. Seagulls are an increasing hazard for the coots. The first cold weather has arrived the last day in November.
Coots from last year have returned this winter. Starvin' Marvin and Beaky Coot's mate from last year are back. I was unable to help an injured coot with a broken wing that came through the marina. Several coots were killed by cars on Marina Parkway nearby. Both government and private animal control and rescue agencies are useless to help this problem. Finally the birds themselves seem to have become aware of the danger and run away from cars.
I constructed a nest box for the coots. Starvin' Marvin joined with a new female to take control of new territory, driving away all the more dominant male migrants. Later, they returned to be fed by the parking lot. More returnees arrived from last year. Beaky Coot imitated Missy Coot's "cluck-cluck" display. Coots were killed on Marina Parkway in greater numbers.
Professional Journals from SORA
Coots have Mathematical Abilities
Fulica Americana Defined
Coots at Lake Murray (San Diego)
A coot in Alaska in winter
Nature Magazine on the Preposterous Coot
A Love Story of Two Wild Birds
A curius female coot foraging in the iceplant waits hopefully to be fed while her shy mate looks on