A Coot’s Clever Foot

Like Victorian ladies, the American Coots around Cesar Chavez Park never show their legs.  Or almost never.  This morning, with the King Tide setting all sorts of flotsam afloat, one of the several dozen Coots that currently make the North Basin their residence decided to climb up on a log and do its preening standing, rather than swimming.  And so I got to see its legs and feet, which I had never seen before.  The legs were slightly greenish and unremarkable.  But the feet!  They are not webbed, like the feet of ducks.  Instead of webs, Coots have a set of skin flaps on their toes that serve the same purpose more cleverly.  When the foot moves forward, the flaps go flat and offer little resistance.  When the foot moves backward, the flaps expand and stiffen, giving the bird leverage against the water.  These webless feet work very well.  Watch a Coot moving in water — they can really truck along.   These feet are a reminder that Coots are not ducks, they’re Rails.  They’re in the same family as Sandhill Cranes, not  Mallards. They also have pointed beaks, not flat and rounded beaks like most ducks.  

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