Thursday, January 17, 2013

Popsicle Toes

American Coot (c) John Ashley
American Coot
Last winter I wrote about the put-put swimming motion of American Coots (Fulica americana), a native species that - like Rodney Dangerfield - gets no respect. Now I finally have an image of the flaps, thanks to a Northern Harrier that some friends accidentally flushed right after it had caught and killed a Coot. The hungry raptor never returned for the unlucky Coot.

When Coots come ashore to feed, they peck around like so many little black chickens. But Coots spend most of their lives on water, putting around and acting like ducks. In spite of this behavior, Coots are rails, not ducks. They are more closely related to Sandhill Cranes than to Mallards.

Coots lack the webbed toes that make ducks so graceful on the water. Instead, the somewhat less than graceful Coots have separate toes that feature folding flaps on either side. These flaps fold out when the Coot kicks back against the water, and fold together when the Coot's foot collapses to move forward through the water. These put-put Coots can be found on almost every medium to large body of water, from northern Canada to southern Central America. This wide-ranging success should earn them a bit of respect, at the very least.

American Coot toe flaps (c) John Ashley
Flaps on both sides of a toe belonging to a recently deceased American Coot