Saturday, March 05, 2011


The American coot  (Fulica americana) is small, dark gray, almost black, waterfowl with a very noticeable white "nose" where the bill meets its forehead. They make a curious squeak of a sound and on take off, have to paddle and flap hard to get some air. (A mallard, by contrast, rises more on the vertical.) The coot is actually part of the Rail family that swims and is easily mistaken as a common duck. It looks more like small chicken. In this group you could include marsh hens and moor hens.

Apparently they are not good swimmers. (They can float. It's not like they're going to sink.) They have a lobbed feet rather than webbed feet so it may be that propulsion through the water just isn't there. And on take off the surface tension of the water works very hard against them.

We found more than enough coots on the South Fork of the Holston just below Netherland Inn in Kingsport, Tenn. The city maintains a park (the Greenbelt) that runs along the river from the I-26 bridge to the confluence of the North Fork of the Holston, maybe two miles one way. Great birding spot all year around. (Search Google maps for easy access.)

What I want to know is what makes me an old coot? Like I have something in common with this bird? Must be something to do with being not worth much. But, why not call us old geezers "an old Mallard" or "an old chicken"? What did the coot do wrong to deserve such association?

And, how about "biddy"? Where'd that come from, I wonder.

Happy Birding