A small-sized coot bird is familiar to many as a “water chicken”. People so nicknamed her not in vain, because the appearance of this feathered bird bears little resemblance to a waterfowl. Contrary to all external appearance, the coot feels great in secluded reed thickets, swimming quite quickly and diving dexterously. Let us consider in detail the way of life of these birds, describe the appearance, characterize the temper and bird habits.
Origin of the species and description
The coot is also called the lyska, it is a small waterfowl belonging to the shepherd family and the crane-like order. In appearance, the coot does not look very much like a waterfowl, especially if you see it not on the water. Its sharp beak is more reminiscent of a crow, there are no webbed paws, it prefers to hide from the threat by running, it takes flight with reluctance, well, why not a chicken?
In addition, the coot has other nicknames, it is called:
- a water crow because of the black color and shape of the beak;
- a shepherdess because of belonging to the shepherd family;
- an official because of the black white business suit;
- black loon because of the similarity in habits and color;
- in the vastness of the Lower Volga region and Kazakhstan, this bird is called kashkaldak, and in Turkmenistan and the Caucasus – kachkaldak.
The most important distinguishing feature of the coot, which served as its name, is the presence of a white (sometimes colored) leathery spot on the head, which merges in color with the color of the beak. Like all the nearest shepherd relatives of the coot, this bird does not differ in large dimensions and chooses places for permanent residence near lakes and rivers. In total, scientists distinguish 11 varieties of coots, 8 of which settled on the South American continent. Only one variety of these birds lives in our country – the common coot, which has black-gray feathers and a white spot on the frontal part of the head, which smoothly turns into a beak of the same color.
Appearance and Features
The dimensions of coots are usually medium-sized, the length of their body ranges from 35 to 40 cm, although there are coots of more impressive sizes. Among them are the horned and giant coots, whose sizes go beyond 60 cm. The vast majority of shepherds are painted black, but the tone of the leathery spot on the forehead can be not only white, in overseas South American birds the spot has bright yellow and red colors. (in red-fronted and white-winged coots).
An interesting fact: Bird limbs have a unique structure that allows them to swim and walk perfectly on the marshy and viscous soil of reservoirs. This is facilitated by special swimming blades, which are available on strong and strong legs.
The color of the limbs of coots is quite unusual: they can be light yellow or bright orange, the fingers themselves are black, and the blades that equip them are white. The wings of the flats are not long, they do flights infrequently, and even then, with great reluctance, preferring to lead a settled life. There are exceptions among them, the varieties living in the northern hemisphere are migratory, therefore they are capable of long flights. The tail feathers of most species are soft and the undertail is white.
The common coot living in our country grows no more than 38 cm in length, and weighs about a kilogram, although there are individuals that reach one and a half kilograms. The eyes of this coot are bright red, and the paws are yellow-orange with outstretched gray fingers. The white beak matches the color of the frontal plaque; it is not large, but sharp and laterally compressed. It is not so easy to distinguish males from females. They are slightly larger, but not much. It is noted that their white frontal spot is larger and the color of the feathers is darker. The young growth of coots is colored brown, and the belly and throat are light gray.
Where does the coot live?
Coot settlement area very extensive, they are found in various parts of our planet, living in the spaces:
- North Africa;
- South America;
- New Zealand;
- Papua New Guinea.
Birds spread in territories from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. In Europe, they chose Norway, Sweden, Finland. In Scandinavia and a little further north they are no longer found. In very small numbers they inhabit the Faroe Islands, Labrador and Iceland. In Asia, the bird has taken root in the territories of Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Iran, Bangladesh, and India. On the African continent, she prefers to occupy its northern part.
In Russia, the coot inhabited the Perm and Kirov regions, the Karelian Isthmus. A large number of birds liked Siberia. Coots do not go deep into the taiga, but in the southern part of Siberia they have settled down perfectly, settling in spaces near various reservoirs. In the Far East and Sakhalin, birds inhabit the coastal zones of the Amur.
Interesting fact: The specific boundaries of the distribution range of coots cannot be determined, because. birds do not like long journeys, on the road they can choose an island they like in the ocean and register there forever, if climatic conditions allow.
Coots living in regions with a warm climate can be called sedentary, they only occasionally make short flights. From central and eastern Europe, birds migrate in different directions. Some rush to the African continent, others – to the western borders of Europe, to Asia, Syria. Turkey. Coots living in Russia fly to India for the winter. Coots live both near fresh and slightly saline water bodies, inhabiting deltas and floodplains, lakes, estuaries.
Birds prefer to nest in shallow water, they do not like too turbulent currents, they choose places overgrown with vegetation:
What does a coot eat?
Most of the coot menu consists of dishes of vegetable origin. They are happy to eat the foliage of various underwater and coastal plants, feed on seeds, young shoots, fruits, green algae. In search of food, the coot plunges its head into the water or can dive, having gone to a depth of two meters.
Coots love to eat:
- young bulrush;
- all kinds of algae.
Animal food is also included in the bird’s diet, but it makes up only ten percent of the total food.
Sometimes coots eat:
- various insects;
- small fish;
- fish caviar.
It also happens that coots make predatory raids on the nesting places of other birds in order to feast on their eggs, but this happens infrequently. Coots act as food competitors for wild ducks, swans, drakes, because live in the same biotopes and have the same taste preferences. Often there are conflicts between them over food.
Interesting fact: Although the coot is much smaller than the swan, she desperately takes food from him and the wild duck, sometimes she trades in theft. Cunning coots can form alliances with drakes to work together against ducks and swans. What you won’t do for a tasty morsel.
Character and lifestyle features
Coots are active, for the most part, during the day. Only in spring they can stay awake at night and during seasonal migrations they prefer to move around at dusk. The lion’s share of their bird life they are on the water, so they swim pretty decently, which is how they differ from their shepherd relatives. On the ground, they look a little awkward, when they move, they funny and raise their paws high. During the swim, the coot shakes its head, then stretching, then pressing its neck. The tail is under water.
When a bird feels threatened, it tries to dive deeper or hide in reed thickets, but it rarely takes off in danger, these birds are in no hurry to fly without special need. If you really have to do this, then the birds make an eight-meter run on the water surface, and then quickly take off. It seems that the coot flies hard and not very willingly. She also doesn’t know how to maneuver in flight, but she gains decent speed. The bird rarely comes ashore, but usually climbs the coastal bumps, where it cleans feathers.
The nature of the coots is very trusting and a little naive, which is why the birds often suffer, because. close to people and predators. In general, this peaceful bird has a rather lively and courageous disposition, because it enters into an unequal struggle with swans if a tasty trophy is at stake. Robbery dashing enthusiasm is also inherent in coots, because sometimes they go all out, ruining other people’s nests and stealing food from their feathered neighbors (swans and ducks).
As already mentioned, during seasonal migrations, birds move at night, sometimes alone, sometimes in small flocks. Arriving at the place of wintering, coots gather in huge groups, which can number several hundred thousand birds.
Interesting fact: Coots have a very chaotic and incomprehensible system of migrations. For example, birds living in the same region fly partly to the west of Europe, and partly to Africa or the Middle East.
Social structure and reproduction
Coots can be called monogamous birds, creating long-term family unions. The period of the mating season for sedentary coots is not specifically defined, it can take place at different times, it all depends on the weather and the availability of food habitats. For migratory birds, the wedding season begins immediately after they return from their wintering grounds. Noise and din on the water is heard during this period from all sides, battles of feathered cavaliers often take place, because everyone is very jealous of his passion.
An interesting fact: Coots are characterized by mating games, during which entire show ballets are arranged on the water. The bride and groom move towards each other, while they shout loudly. Having swum closer, the birds begin to disperse again or move synchronously, clinging to each other’s wings.
Common coots nest on the water in reed or reed thickets. The nest is built from last year’s dry wood and foliage, in appearance it looks like a loose heap of straw. Fastening can be of two types: either to the bottom surface, or to aquatic plants. During the season, the female manages to make three clutches, which can number up to 16 eggs, which have a grayish-sand hue and are covered with burgundy speckles. It is noticed that in the first clutch there are always more eggs than in the rest. The incubation period lasts about 22 days, and both females and future fathers take part in the incubation process. While waiting for offspring, the coot family becomes very aggressive and carefully guards the nesting site.
The babies that were born look wonderful and resemble ugly ducklings. Their plumage is dominated by black, and the beak has a reddish-orange tint, down in the head and neck area is visible in the same tone as the beak. Within a day, the babies get out of their nest, following their parents. For two weeks, a caring mother and father feed their helpless offspring and instill in them vital skills. Sensitive parents at night warm the chicks with their bodies and protect them from ill-wishers.
At the age of 9 to 11 weeks, the young gain independence and begin to cluster in flocks, preparing for the flight to warmer climes. Young coots become sexually mature the next year. It should be noted that after the end of the nesting period, mature coots begin the process of molting, the birds become unable to fly and sit in the thickets of reeds.
An interesting fact: Giant and horned coots living in the tropics equip huge nesting sites. In a giant, it looks like a floating reed raft, up to four meters in diameter and about 60 cm high. The horned bird is building a nest using stones that it can roll with its beak. The mass of such a structure reaches one and a half tons.
Natural enemies of coots
Many dangers await coots in harsh wild conditions. Birds of prey do not sleep and make aerial attacks, mainly on chicks and inexperienced young.
From the air, the danger can come from:
- marsh harriers;
- herring gulls;
- peregrine falcons;
In addition to predatory birds, the coot can suffer from foxes, wild boars, minks, ferrets, muskrats, otters. Foxes and wild boars often feast on bird eggs, the latter specially go into shallow water, looking for numerous bird flocks.
Various natural disasters can also be attributed to negative factors that adversely affect the life of birds. This includes late frosts and a large amount of rain. Frost is dangerous for the first bird clutch, which is created in early spring. Downpours can flood nests located on the surface of the water. So, keeping eggs safe and sound is not an easy task.
The enemy of the coot is also a person who harms birds unknowingly, invading their places of permanent deployment and polluting water bodies, and deliberately hunting these birds, because their meat is very tasty. During a dangerous situation, the coot can jump over the water, hit its surface with wings and limbs, which leads to the creation of strong splashes. At this time, the bird hits the enemy with strong paws or beak. Sometimes, seeing the enemy, coots nesting nearby unite and attack the attacker with a whole group, which can consist of eight birds at once. birds rarely live to old age, because on their way there are many different enemies and obstacles. Scientists using the ringing method found that coots are able to live up to 18 years, that was the age of the oldest, caught, ringed feathered centenarian.
Species population and status
The population of common coots is very extensive, as is the territory of their settlement. Apparently, this is due to the fact that birds are quite prolific and easily adapt to new habitats. This feathered bird cannot be attributed to the number of rare birds, it is found quite often. In general, almost all species of coots do not cause any concern among environmental organizations, since their numbers are stable and not endangered.
Coots inhabited almost our entire planet, excluding its subpolar and polar regions. Of course, there are a number of negative anthropogenic factors that reduce the population size. These include the drying of reservoirs, cutting down reed beds, the displacement of birds by people who occupy more and more different territories for their own needs, environmental degradation, and hunting for these amazing birds. All these negative processes take place, but, fortunately, they do not have a strong and noticeable effect on the number of coots, which is very encouraging.
So, ordinary coots are very numerous representatives of the shepherd family, which are not threatened with extinction , and these birds do not need special protective measures, which is good news. The main thing is that such a favorable trend, regarding the size of the bird population, should continue.
In the end, it remains to be added that among other waterfowl, the coot looks rather unusual, having no characteristic external features for life on the water. Despite all this, they perfectly adapted to such an existence and feel much more confident on the surface of the water surface than in the air, which is very interesting and surprising.