The coots are coming! Yes, the coots (also called mud hens) are coming to a lake near you. They are already starting to group up before their fall migration. They will continue to congregate until one morning when they will be all gone. Wildlife biologists say they migrate at night, but I’m not convinced. I think a fleet of busses whisks them away while we’re all sleeping.
These birds couldn’t possibly find their way south on their own. After all, they are Clem Kadiddlehopper, Rodney Dangerfield, and Forrest Gump all rolled into one. Coot brain must certainly be poor stuff!
I was horrified to discover that one of my college professors did his master’s thesis on coots. I asked him why he would choose to be forever associated with the much-maligned bird. His answer was quite informative.
He was interested in reproductive behavior of waterfowl. Many waterfowl species are difficult to observe or have local populations so small that it’s difficult to get good scientific data. Not so for coots. They are abundant and easy to observe. In short, they make a great study organism. Information derived from studying coots may provide insight to other waterfowl species.
It made me think of the Golden Fleece Awards given out by former senator William Proxmire. He would give the award to those government funded projects he deemed a total waste of tax dollars. A study of coots would certainly have qualified. But it’s important to realize that many study organisms are chosen because of their abundance and observability, not necessarily because the organism itself has any special significance.
If you think about it, coots must have something going for them. They’re found throughout much of North and Central America, and in many areas quite abundant. Maybe they are smarter than we think they are.
I’ll leave you to ponder this little gem about coots: Bruce Lyon, biologist at U.C. Santa Cruz, published a scientific paper in 2003 showing that coots can determine the number of eggs in its nest. They can count! If this holds up to scientific scrutiny it’s an extremely rare example of counting by wild animals. Now I suppose we must think of coots as some kind of avian savants!
Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Dakota College at Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.
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