Sunday, December 4, 2011

Coot Shenanigans!

The lovely tundra swan, Cygnus columbianus
The crafty Amercan coot, Fullica americana
Tundra swans breed across far northern North America and migrate south to spend the winter in big flocks along both coasts. Coots are opportunistic kleptoparasites -- they steal when it is worth their while.

A few of each were in the East Pool of the Edwin Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in Oceanville, NJ, when I visited at the end of November. Tundra swans are only occasionally seen there.

This swan is about to get mugged. 
One of the swans was feeding, submerging its long neck to bring vegetation up from the bottom of the shallow pool. The moment it went under, the coots rushed in to pick up bits of free food that floated up. And when the swan resurfaced, they grabbed at the food in its bill. The swan pecked at them, but it was three against one, and it ended up providing lunch for four that day.

Quick, while he's not looking! 

The Forsythe Refuge is on the Atlantic Flyway and it is always full of interesting birds. It is about an hour’s drive from Philadelphia, two from New York City, and 15 minutes from Atlantic City.

P.S. This is a mute swan, Cygnus olor. Notice the orange bill with black knob -- it is not the swan I am talking about. I have never seen coots hassle mute swans. But I have seen mute swans chase other birds and fight viciously with each other -- they are tough customers. I wonder if coots ever pick on them?


  1. A great blog and a very worthy topic - urban wildlife is probably seen and loved (hopefully) by people who need access to nature more than anybody else. I'll also look into your book. Unfortunately urban parks are a neglected subject out west. Naturalists without transportation are pretty much out of luck. I'm putting your blog on my list of links!

  2. Thanks Margarethe! I have added a link to your blog. Every once in a while I get to go to the American Museum's research station in Portal, Arizona. It's wonderful to see the desert animals there, and the landscapes are fabulous -- so different from what I see everyday! But I really like the diversity of insects. I almost forget to look up to see the birds. Best, Julie