Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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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 measurements.

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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