Bird of the Week

Photo courtesy Ben Bailey

This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the American coot.
Strolling by the cattails of our nearby lakes, you might see individuals or small groups of medium-sized, darkly feathered, duck-like birds swimming by with a distinctively white or light gray bill. This is the American coot. If you see them on land, you will notice that they don’t waddle like a duck — their stride is more like that of a chicken. Instead of webbed feet, they have flaps of skin on their toes that fan out when they paddle through the water or walk on mud flats. So, they are duck-like, but not closely related to the various duck species that they share habitat with.
They are found across North America during at least some portion of the year and are typically year-round residents in southwest Colorado. They love shorelines of lakes or standing bodies of water where cattails and other emergent vegetation provide shelter and nesting habitat. Coots feed primarily on aquatic plants while swimming, diving or foraging on land, but occasionally will dine on insects and other invertebrates.
Populations of the American coot appear to be stable. Because their favored habitats are often subject to agricultural and industrial runoff, coots can accumulate toxins deposited in their environment, making them useful for monitoring the potential ecological impacts of these toxins.
For many of us, the affectionate phrase “old coot” may apply as our gait becomes a bit unsteady, our heads bob a bit when we walk and perhaps our knees buckle, but our belts won’t.
For information on local bird-watching events, visit www.weminucheaudubon.org and www.facebook.com/weminucheaudubon/.

This story was posted on November 4, 2018.