Can you guess what this little cutie is? Actually, he or she is not that little. About the size of a football, and heavy. She is an American Coot (Fulica americana). The males and females have identical plumage, an expert can tell the difference by their vocalizations.
Like some other water-associated birds, the coot can get way-laid by a storm and wind up where he or she should not be. So it was with this one. She was in excellent condition though, quite fat, strong, and anxious to get away from me. But, like grebes and other water type birds, she could not take off from the ground, she needed a running start - on water!
After a one night bed & breakfast (which she turned down), off she went to the nearest group of other coots and open water.
Some interesting facts about the coot:
1) they are not ducks - in fact they are a type of rail, a rail is a type of marsh bird and eats almost only vegetation. Usually you would have to look hard for a rail, but coots are pretty gregarious. They live on freshwater lakes around marshy, wetland like habitats. They need the vegetation at the edges of these water bodies to eat, though you will find them out in deeper water too (unlike other rails).
2) Check out those green and huge feet! This bird is a swimmer, like the grebe, loon, and merganser. It is a heavy bird for that reason, to be able to sink down in the water and swim. Their wings, while larger in proportion than a grebes to body size, are still not strong enough for a land take-off. They must have a good bit of water - and not a pond mind you - a lake.
Those fantastic feet are lobed and large to paddle their way all around under and on top of water.
Check out this cool bird online at the Cornell Laboratory website and impress your friends when you see one in the wild by saying, "Did you know that is not a duck? Its a rail....!"
Author: Elise Wolf
I have been enraptured and fascinated by wild birds my whole life. I finally got involved in avian rescue when it became clear that while we need to do all we can to save habitat and ecological systems, for many populations of birds, every single bird matters. And thus, saving them one at a time is increasingly important.