Coot Invasion

On this first astronomical morning of spring, I decided to visit Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area, southwest of Columbia, my favorite location in Central Missouri. As expected, waterfowl were abundant and the annual coot invasion was beginning to peak.

Closely related to rails and gallinules, American coot are the most common and most aquatic members of their family. Easily identified by their chunky, dark gray body, white bill and jerky swimming style, coot often mingle with ducks and grebes. Gathering in large, amiable flocks during the spring and fall migrations, these comical birds feed on surface vegetation, dive to reach bottom plants and forage for seeds, waste grain and grasses along lakeshores and levees. Since their flesh is not valued by hunters, coot tend to be less skittish than other waterfowl; when startled, they patter across the surface to escape and are rarely observed in flight.

American coot are permanent residents in southeast Missouri and breed on wetlands throughout the State. However, their numbers increase dramatically during the spring and fall migrations, when they easily outnumber other waterfowl species. This morning, joined by American white pelicans, rafts of lesser scaup, shovelers, ring-necked ducks, blue-winged teal, pied-billed grebes and great blue herons, the coot easily stole the show.