Monday Bird of the Week No.39 – Coot

Carrying on our theme of ‘unduly ignored’ we take a look at the close relative of last week’s Moorhen. The balding old Coot.

Is there a bird whose metaphorical use is more negative than the Coot?

“Bald as a coot”, “Crazy old coot”, it’s not looking good.

The ‘bald’ thing is a translation error. Coots have a weight ‘shield’ on their faces and the word ‘bald’ or ‘balde’ used to mean ‘streaked with white.

Quite why the word became synonymous with a crazed old man is less clear. The word seems to have always been the name for the bird, but their rather simple demeanour seems to have led to the word being used to describe somebody who was a little slow or unsteady. Over time this then tagged to older men in particular, before being used to describe someone a little crazier, again an old man though.

In fact that wild and crazy meaning may be well deserved, as there are few birds I know that are more aggressive. When they sit low in the water, head close to the surface, and start moving purposefully through the water like a shark, someone is in trouble. It might be a rival coot, it may be a defenceless Moorhen. It may be a passing duck or goose, or even a human that has strayed too close to a nesting territory. They will seemingly fight anyone, anywhere, any time.

For a bird, they are highly reluctant to fly. They will nearly always walk/run/swim as an alternative. I once saw one take this to an extreme length when, rather than flying over a ten foot high fence, it scaled it through a mix of climbing with beak and feet while flapping its wings.

Like the Moorhen it has remarkable feet, huge splayed things with some webbing to aid swimming and diving for food.

They also have possibly the least appealing-looking chicks of any common bird.

“Wow, my feet are huge!”

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I welcome thoughts, comments and questions, so please feel free to share anything at all. Thanks, David

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