Saturday, June 14, 2008

Greenland Dock Coots

The main obvious difference between coots and moorhens, from the point of view of identification for the bird-challenged, is that coots have a white bit on their heads and bills and moorhens have a red bit with a yellow-tipped bill, in each case known as the "frontal shield". In the case of the coot this white patch is an area of bare coloured skin. If trivia is your thing then you may like to know that the coot is the only British bird with a white bill. I always remember how to distinguish coots from moorhens by thinking of the vibrant colours of the moorish people when I think of moorhens. In fact their name comes from the Anglo-Saxon term mor, which means mere or bog.

Confusingly, the young coot chicks are far more colourful when born than the moorhen chicks, but as you won't usually see them without their parents this confusion is minimal in practical terms.

One of this adolescent's parents was having a wonderful time creating its own custom-made jacuzzi in the dock, churning up the water and looking distinctly waterlogged!

Only a week or so ago I was photographing these coots when the chicks were tiny. I am absolutely staggered at how fast they are growing. They are still fluffy, but they are now all leg and neck. This family has quite a strong local following. I've never been there when someone isn't there leaning over the chains and enjoying the sight and the sheer volume of noise that such small things can produce.

Coots search underwater for food, although they are very happy to take bread when offered. They are excellent divers from a young age. I was standing on the bridge that now crosses the lake in Kew Gardens a couple of weeks ago, watching an adolescent dive in the clear waters - it was quite astonishing to watch its agility and speed. Like penguins, they are so ungainly on land but become almost fluid beneath the water.

Coots are very argumentative, particularly in Spring and early Summer, when the males defend their territory with legs outstretched and very noisily. They can create real problems for the parents of other chicks, and may kill when they perceive as a threat. They are small but potentially deadly, with those vast splayed claws.


Anonymous said...

What do people think About the planting up of Greenland dock for wildlife? How do people think this has changed the local area around Greeland dock? Are there any improvements that could be made?

Andie said...


Sorry that it has taken me so long to reply to you. This was an old post (dating to June) and I don't check old posts for comments very often. It is clear that no-one else does either.

If you want an answer to this question the best place to pose it would be on the Friends of Russia Dock Woodland email group. You can find the address at the Friends home page: