VOLANT, Pa — It was truly an amazing sight to see about 20 American Coot’s land in the Black Swamp. Coot’s are not regular to this area. They pass over during migration. So, to have the chance to see so many was a great experience. While I, and my fellow Tweetspeaker’s, observed them diving under the water and popping up elsewhere, I heard someone say that Coot’s have odd feet. What could that have meant? I decided to find out.
Coot’s, a black, “ducklike” bird with a white bill, have lobate feet.
Lobate feet have a backwards digit 1 and digits 2, 3, and 4 have lobes of skin surrounding them. A few species with lobate feet include coots, grebes, and phalaropes. – BirdNation
Michael Checkett, of Ducks.org, describes lobate feet as “where the toes have a series of webbed lobes that open when the foot is pushed backwards.” This means the webbed lobes are outstretched when the foot hits the ground. When it picks it’s foot up, the lobes fold up against the toes.
For its size, smaller than a Mallard, the Coot’s lobate feet are exceptionally large. They make great use of them, too. As you could imagine, Coot’s use their feet for walking and running on land. However, they can also run quickly across water, too! According to Birds of North America, this is called “spattering.” Coot’s do this by beating the water surface with their wings and feet. Coot’s are strong swimmers as well, even though their feet aren’t ideal for it. Lobate feet also help them walk through marshy areas.
I was personally interested in their spattering behavior. Coot’s are fiercely territorial birds. Male and female Coot’s are aggressive. Males are usually the more aggressive of the two sexes. Their large feet and claws are their greatest allies while fighting. When an outsider, Coot or otherwise, enters another Coot’s territory, the owner of the space uses the spattering behavior to chase the intruder down. The bill is usually the first hit, then the Coot has the ability to rest back on its wings and prop itself up on the water’s surface. From here, they use their feet to subdue the other bird, clawing and scratching at its chest or whatever it can reach. The stronger bird eventually tries to hold the loser underwater and pluck its feathers. The defeated bird can usually escape and swim away. However, Coot fights have been known to end in death for the unlucky loser.
We didn’t get to witness any fights or spattering in person. This is most likely because they were just passing through and had no need to establish territories. However, it was still incredible to see these birds in person!