Also noted at Meerboer Lake west of Laramie yesterday: a plucked goose. That’s what I thought this little guy looked like. I kept saying what is that? That’s one funky bird. Thankfully, he let me take his picture, which allowed me to match him up on the internet with other photos of juvenile American coots, Fulica americana.
I have seen coots at various times in the past, and there were several adults at Meerboer Lake (athough this little guy was not close to any of them, making him even harder to identify), but I had never before seen one in this in-between, gray, almost bald-looking phase. The adults are dark gray to black with a large white beak.
I’ve always liked coots for their ugly charm. They retain a bit of the dinosaur about them, and their feet are super cool. Their glangly legs and toes look like skeleton bones, and instead of webs, they have folded lobes that lets them be at home on water or land, though they do look rather awkward out of the water. Coots are not related to ducks but to rails.
The chicks, which I have never yet had the chance to see, are supposedly even weirder looking, with bald bits and orange fluff. Check out 10000 Bird’s amusing post on ugly babies.
I have also encountered coots on the east coast of South Carolina. Those guys were nice enough to let me get a closeup photo to show the red eyes and upper beak. Must be that Southern hospitality.