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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Pt. 2

While on the Black Point Wildlife Drive at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, we saw many ducks such as the male (left) and female (middle) Hooded Mergansers and waterbirds such as American Coots (right).

Coots are dark slate gray waterbirds with a chicken-like white bill with a black mark near tip. They swim and dive or tip down for the vegetative matter they eat. See this video shot with my little Canon Powershot A620 camera. The coots bob and swirl, reminding me of the water insects, Whirligig Beetles.

To play the video click on the arrow.

One thing that struck us was how frequently we saw large groups of coots tightly huddled together. We came around a corner and saw this huge mass which looked like black and white confetti from a distance.

They were huddled closer than passengers on the Boston subway at rush hour. From our bird behavior studies we knew one of the reasons birds flock tightly was when a predator was nearby,

and we looked up just in time to see a Bald Eagle swoop down and pick up a coot.

Here's a closer look. Coots don't have webbed feet but slightly lobbed toes, visible on the coot the Eagle is carrying. So there maybe safety in numbers...up to a point.
Coming tomorrow, the ducks and Scrub Jays of Merritt Island.

Photos © Lillian Stokes, 2007


wolf21m said...

It is interesting that the Coots band together to avoid the predator. In animals that fight together, this makes tremendous sense. In this case, it seems that it greatly enhances the Eagle's ability to get a coot (less likely to miss as teh mass holds teh target still). Thus, if you are the target Coot, its good to have other targets nearby, if not you just helped the Eagle.

Lillian and Don Stokes said...

The Birds of North America reference says that "Coots feeding in a tightly packed flock on a lake splash vigorously to create a confusion of water spray (centripetal scramble) in response to overhead flights of Bald Eagles." We were far away and did not see clearly if anything like this was happening, but it seems a very interesting defense mechanism that might protect coots in the large flocks.

Julie Zickefoose said...

Them that's out there gets the shots, as you once again prove. Fabulous series!

dguzman said...

Oh dear, poor coot. I had no idea eagles ate such large prey.

The Ridger, FCD said...

As my brother always says: Predators have babies too!