Nature Bulletin No. 42 November 24, 1945
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Clayton F. Smith, President
Roberts Mann, Superintendent of Conservation
In the lakes and ponds of the forest preserves, and along the shores of
Lake Michigan, from late September until late November, one may see
l'rafts" of black, duck-like birds with small, jet-black heads and pointed,
ivory-white beaks. They tend to gang up, hang together, and move in
unison like soldiers. Unlike ducks, which glide along, these birds seem
to "walk" ,in the water, thrusting their heads forward and back with
each paddle-stroke of their feet. They dive quickly and well, but rise
from the water with difficulty, assisting their long "take-off" by rapidly
spanking the water behind them with their feet. These are coots,
commonly known here as "muddiness. .
They are not ducks but belong to the same family as the rails and the
gallinules which are wading birds or shore-birds. The coot' s feet are
not webbed like a duck. The long toes each have wide, wide lobes on
each side, and a long claw. When captured alive they viciously scratch
with these claws and stab and bite with their sharp-pointed beaks. The
males and females appear to be exactly alike although there are slight
differences which can be detected by an expert and careful
When disturbed, they fly only short distances, a few feet above the
water. Apparently they migrate only at night. They are never seen
entering or leaving a body of water nor on land away from a shoreline.
But, clumsily as they seem to fly, records show that they cover long
distances in record time. Coots banded and released in the forest
preserves have been captured or killed in southern Louisiana 12 days
later, whereas, the record for any duck is 28 days. They have been
captured or killed on the New Jersey coast 6 days after being banded
here, in the West Indies 35 days after being banded, and in Tapioca,
Mexico, 64 days after being banded.
Coots are mistakenly neglected by game management authorities, and
by hunters, as a valuable game bird. Most people do not know that they
must be skinned rather than plucked, nor how to cook them properly.
They cook much more quickly than ducks, and are delicious when fried,
stewed or made into "hasenpfeffer" . The coot is one species of
waterfowl that seems to be increasing in numbers. It is seriously
competing with ducks for the available food in both their wintering
grounds and their summer breeding grounds.
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Update: June 2012