American Coot chick

An American Coot chick and one of its parents.

Toshimi Kristof took this photo of an American Coot (Fulica americana) chick and one of its parents. Toshimi and her husband, Les, spotted the lone chick with its two parents at Jack's Hole, a small lake in Bear Valley Springs.

American Coots often have half a dozen or more chicks, but they have high mortality in the first 10 days after hatching, mostly due to starvation, because it is hard for the adults to keep the babies fed until they are old enough to feed themselves. This couple only had one surviving chick.

Adult Coots eat mostly aquatic vegetation, though they also come up on land and eat plants, leaves and grain. They may also eat invertebrates like insects and snails. These high protein foods are what they feed the chicks.

To help attract attention from the parents, and compete with their siblings, baby Coots have what is called "chick ornamentation," which consists of a brightly colored bill and orange plumage around the chick's head and mouth, which is believed to help call attention to them and encourage the parents to feed them. These colorful markings disappear after a few weeks and the chicks begin to resemble the more drab adults.

American Coots spend most of their time in the water, but they are not considered waterfowl and they are not ducks. They are actually more closely related to cranes and rails than ducks. They are tough and scrappy though, and often hold their own against the larger ducks with whom they frequently associate.

The Nuwä (Kawaiisu or Paiute) word for Coot is potok.

NATURAL SIGHTINGS is a regular feature of the Tehachapi News edited by Jon Hammond which showcases photos of the natural beauty that enhances the quality of life in Tehachapi. If you have a good quality image of plants, animals, insects, trees, birds, weather phenomena, etc., taken in the Tehachapi area, you may submit it to the Tehachapi News for possible publication. Submissions can be dropped by the News office in the form of a print or CD, or sent by email to: editorial@tehachapinews.com.