Sunday, July 17, 2011

What do you get when you cross a duck and a chicken?

I'm not sure, but it would probably look something like an American Coot (Fulica americana).

The little white-billed black "ducks" you'll see paddling through the cattails on the Gaetz Lakes right now are actually Coots, which are members of the Rallidae or Rail family. If you get a chance to look closely at a coot while it's swimming, you'll notice that its feet are lobed rather than webbed like a duck's would be. Because of their lobed feet, Coots (also known as Mudhens) are much better able to get about on land than most ducks can.

Coots are considered weak fliers, and their comparatively small wings mean that they need a real running take-off to get in the air.

I took the above photo of a Coot and her young a few years ago, and her babies were certainly in the awkward stage. There are few things on the lake as homely as newly-hatched, orange-headed Coots. I'm not sure they even qualify as "so ugly they're cute", to be honest. At the moment the young on the West Lake are past that phase, though, and busily foraging through the pond weed and algae with their mother. I took a bit of video of them this morning, and while it was too sunny today to get a really good shot of them, you can watch them feeding on our YouTube channel here.

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