Old (and young) Coots

american-coot_ridgefieldnwr-wa_lah_8614-1When you call someone an “old coot,” just what exactly are you implying? Perhaps we should take such name-calling as a compliment. In many ways, coots are pretty respectable birds.

Although they share habitat with ducks, and superficially resemble them, coots have lobed toes and a beak instead of webbed feet and a bill. They are members of the rail family, and are related to cranes and limpkins. Their other common name, marsh hen, comes from their chicken-like head bobbing as they walk and feed.

Far from being weaklings, coots display considerable stamina. American Coots have managed to fly across the Atlantic Ocean at least 23 times. Even more remarkable, in 2003 two birds were sighted in Tasmania, a whopping 8,000 miles from home!

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