American Coots were easily spotted on a recent visit to the Malibu Lagoon. A fresh water basin in Western Los Angeles County, the restored estuary once again hosts a variety of birdlife year around, fed by water draining out of Malibu Canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains.
The level of the water was low on this January visit. The December 2020 King Tide had breached Surfrider Beach’s thin sand bar which separates the brackish water from the Santa Monica Bay. Depending on the level of water, visitors can see a variety of birds, some who visit and feed exclusively when the water is either high or low.
The smaller water surface concentrated the birds toward the center of the lagoon. Along the muddy rim, this American Coot, with its black velvet head, striking white bill and forehead, and lobed toes, walked surprisingly well.
For a broader picture of what the Lagoon looks like when the water is low, the Santa Monica Bay Audubon Society’s blog post provides details on the birds seen as well as the ocean’s tidal action to close the sandbar.
If you’ve ever heard a flock of coots take off for flight, you know that the clatter of their wings on the water’s surface sounds like hands clapping after a concert. Do you hear American Coots in your walks around lakes or rivers?
One thought on “American Coots”
Hi: Your coot photo above captures very well the peculiarity of the coot’s foot. The toes are lobed, not webbed, as it a ducks foot. The lobes close when the toes move forward through the water, but open when the toes move backward, providing a wide surface during the power stroke of swimming. This gives the coot the ability to walk quite well over mud or grass, whereas the ducks must famously “waddle.” In the U.S.A. coots are very common in parks, wandering over the grassy lawns searching for insects, whereas ducks (not geese) stay pretty close to water.
This also demonstrates the fact that while coots may look a lot like ducks (convergent evolution), they are only distantly related to ducks, but are far more closely related to cranes, birds of the fields. Plus their bills are laterally compressed whereas the duck bill is laterally very wide.