I have lost track of how many times I have hiked on the dike at Wiley Slough. It provides a trail deep into the wetlands of the Skagit River Delta. The site is managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Despite all those visits, yesterday was the first time I have ever seen an American Coot (Fulica americana).
At first, there was just one. Then a second bird appeared and joined the first one. When the two entered the slough and began to swim, I spotted a third one that joined them from the opposite shore.
American Coots are about the size of a small chicken. They are said to be common and abundant in wetland areas throughout the Puget Sound Basin. The Skagit River Delta would appear to be ideal habitat. It consists of sloughs, marshes and ponds where the Skagit River drains into Puget Sound. Water levels will fluctuate subject to both river flow and tidal action. There is a mixing of fresh and salt water. This is an important rearing habitat for Chinook Salmon fry.
Where I stood on the dike, I was only 8 to 10 meters from the birds. They seemed to be aware of my presence, but did not become overly alarmed. This is unlike the ducks out there that always flee in terror at the sight of people. I remained still as I took pictures and watched them. They quietly moved along a weedy mud island grabbing a snack here and there as they moved. Watching them made me think of Muppets.
The scientific name Fulica is from fulix which is Latin for waterfowl. The word "coot" is derived from Low German. It is similar to the Dutch word coet, (pronounced "coot") which refers to a similar bird.
They have huge and amazing feet. I tried to get a photo of them, but there was too much mud and plants in the way. There are a couple of good photos of their feet at the Washington Nature Mapping site.
Those feet are obviously designed for walking on unstable ground. Their nests consist of floating islands built of marsh plants and hidden inside of cattail beds. Having oversize feet must come in handy for negotiating a floating nest platform.
I watched the trio slowly move up Wiley Slough until they disappeared behind vegetation. I was heading back to the parking lot when I spotted them. Until then, I hadn't seen anything noteworthy. There weren't even any eagles around which is unusual there. This first time sighting of American Coots really made the day for me.