Saturday, September 20, 2014 · 12:03 p.m.

Riverwalk Bird of the Week: American coot

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Although it swims like a duck, the American coot does not have webbed feet like a duck. (Photo: Bret Douglas)

The folks in the Riverwalk Bird Club don't just watch birds. The group includes some excellent photographers.

Nooga.com Outdoors is happy to share their great photos by featuring a Bird of the Week.

This week, we feature an American coot, taken by Bret Douglas.

Interesting facts
—The waterborne American coot is one good reminder that not everything that floats is a duck. A close look at a coot—that small head, those scrawny legs—reveals a different kind of bird entirely. Their dark bodies and white faces are common sights in nearly any open water across the continent, and they often mix with ducks. But they’re closer relatives of the gangly sandhill crane and the nearly invisible rails than of mallards or teal.

—Although it swims like a duck, the American coot does not have webbed feet like a duck. Instead, each one of the coot’s long toes has broad lobes of skin that help it kick through the water. The broad lobes fold back each time the bird lifts its foot, so it doesn’t impede walking on dry land, though it supports the bird’s weight on mucky ground.

—American coots can be found in rafts of mixed waterfowl and in groups numbering up to several thousand individuals in the winter.

—The ecological impact of common animals, like this ubiquitous waterbird, can be impressive when you add it all up. One estimate from Back Bay, Va., suggested that the local coot population ate 216 tons (in dry weight) of vegetation per winter.

—The oldest known American coot lived to be at least 22 years, 4 months old.

This information is courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

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