Saturday, May 28, 2011

American Coots, Birds returning to Northern Illinois in Mid March

American Coots, Rock Cut State Park, IL; 3/27/2011.
For the past few weekends, I've been highlighting the migration of birds through Northern Illinois this 2011 Spring, specifically those that are only travelling through to more northern (or western) destinations. Now I will take a close look at those birds that not only arrive to our area, but will stay and call Northern Illinois their summer home. The earliest of these arrivals start reaching northern Illinois by late February and early March. These include American Robins, Hermit Thrushes, Eastern Bluebirds, Red-winged Blackbirds, Killdeers, and Common Grackles. The next wave arrivals who came to stay included the American Coots (Above) and the Great Blue Herons, which I started to see in good numbers by mid March.

An American Coot, Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL; 4/23/2011.
Coots are fairly common on ponds, marshes, lakes and even golf course water hazards. They'll feed on lawns and grassy areas, but will take to the water if feel threatened. They will dive to grab some underwater vegetation, then bring it to the surface to eat. Coots are dark gray with a very prominent white bill and red frontal shield. Their deep red eyes are a great contrast on their black head. They also have small white marks on their tails. Coots have been very common on Pierce Lake at Rock Cut State Park both last fall and this Spring. Northern Illinois is more in their southern boundaries of their summer range, so as the spring turns to hot summer months, we'll see less of them in our area. But I have seen them from mid-March through late May.
A large flock of American Coots mixed with American Wigeons,
Phoenix, AZ; 12-26-2009.
When I was in Arizona in the winter of 2009, American Coots were by far the most common water bird I saw on small lakes and lagoons. The largest codgery of Coots I saw were actually on the Ocotillo Golf Course (Phoenix) water hazards. A flock of Coots has many interesting names, including a "codgery", "commotion", "fleet", "shoal", and "swarm" of Coots. I would still like to know who comes up with the names of collective nouns of birds. They are also nicknamed a "marsh hen" or a "mud hen" because their heads bob like a chicken (or pigeon) when they walk or swim.

According to, Coots are kleptoparasitic - when they don’t feel like hunting for their own food, they’ll steal their meal from other birds.

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