Thursday, 4 June 2009

Cute Coots

Among the waterfowl swimming around on the ponds of Shipley Park, are a number of Coots (Fulica atra). Like most of the other birds, they too have chicks chasing after the adults, squeaking loudly for food.

Coots are larger than their cousins the Moorhens and have a distinctive white 'shield' above their beaks and across their foreheads. It is this shield which gives rise to old saying 'as bald as a coot'.

Coot feet are not webbed as many waterfowl are, but the toes are lobed with fleshy discs along their length which helps push them through the water. They feed mainly on aquatic plants and are very adept at diving to get at it. Added to the vegetation, they will take water snails, insects and larvae. Very common on fresh water almost everywhere in the UK, their numbers top 28,000 breeding pairs. Numbers are boosted during the winter with European birds swelling the population to more than 188,000.

The adult birds are famously aggressive towards each other and other birds. This aggression is unfortunately, sometimes directed to their own young and it is not uncommon for adults to 'turn on' their own offspring, attacking and killing them one by one until only one or two are left. In spite of this darker side, they are still rather cute coots!
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