Coots Feeding at Low Tide

P1090319 (Custom)The King tide on January 23 2016 was followed by a very low tide (minus 0.7 feet) at a few minutes before 6 pm.  That’s not a record low tide but it’s considerably lower than usual, and it exposed a broader expanse than usual of the mudflats in the North Basin, on the east side of Cesar Chavez Park.  More than a hundred American Coot were present, and took advantage to feed vigorously.

Coots are considered a very common bird, not endangered or threatened, due probably in large part to the fact that hunters consider them inedible.  They don’t fly very well; it takes them many yards of paddling on the water surface and beating their wings before they can get airborne.  They’re mostly vegetarian, loving all kinds of aquatic plants, which they dabble like ducks — although they’re not related to ducks at all.  (See this explanation.) However, they’re not exclusively vegetarian, which is a good thing for this local population because there isn’t much aquatic vegetation to speak of in these mudflats.  They did seem to find, and gobble up, plenty of little protein packets in the form of worms, snails, and the like.

The Coots here are only spending the winter, or part of it.  They prefer tall water plants like reeds, tule, bulrushes and the like for nest building, and there’s none of that in the North Basin at this time.  Historically this area was absolutely thick with marsh vegetation, but that was before Europeans converted it into a trash depository and channeled the creeks.  It would be a good thing if efforts were made to restore some of the marshlands here.

To find out more about the American Coot, see the Cornell bird site here, or the Audubon site here.

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