Missing my ‘coot’ friends this year

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Oh where oh where have my little ducks gone — oh where or where can they be…

Yes, where are my little black ducks? They should be here by now and I haven’t seen a single one. Usually there are what seems like hundreds of them gliding up and down the canal beside my house, and not a one is there this year.

The other day my husband thought he heard them, but nope. They were a no-show unless they are visiting somewhere else on the lake.

It’s funny how things like waterfowl become part of my way of noting the seasons. Ducks floating peacefully on the water mean the quiet of winter is here.

In hopes of finding out why I don’t have my little friends here this year, I decided to do some detective work. Of course, the best place for finding out pretty much anything is Google.

I typed in the words black “coot” ducks. Coot is what my father-in-law calls the birds so I searched for coots.

What I learned is that my beloved ducks are not ducks at all. Nope, they are “mud hens” and often mistaken for ducks. Well, they sure look like ducks to me. However, it turns out they don’t have webbed feet like regular ducks. I will admit I’ve never seen their feet.

The article said they are “… a highly gregarious species, particularly in the winter, when its flocks can number in the thousands. When swimming on the water surface, American coots exhibit a variety of interesting collective formations, including single-file lines, high density synchronized swimming and rotational dynamics, broad arcing formations, and sequential take-off dynamics.”

Yep, that is what I love about these critters, the interesting collective formations. One of my favorite winter things is sitting beside the water watching the patterns they make as they swim. I particularly enjoy the synchronized swimming.

I read that the birds are “common and widespread” and often considered a pest. How can these sweet little things be pests?

Even hunters tend to leave them alone since their meat is not as good as a duck’s meat. Well, they did say some hunters, particularly in the Southeastern United States, shoot them for sport. (How anyone can shoot these cute buggers just for the heck of it is a mystery to me.)

Anyway, my coot/mud hen friends are MIA and that’s got my winter schedule out of sync. Having no ducks to watch during my allotted watching time leaves me restless.

Yesterday, there was one of those strange long-necked birds that shows up every so often. It was around for only a little while, so I’m hoping it was a scout sent by the coots to determine food availability and whether or not the eagle is lying in wait for them.

I’ve seen an eagle swoop into their midst and send them into a frenzy of flight. I discovered coots make up 80 percent of a bald eagle’s diet. Maybe that is why they aren’t in a hurry to visit me.

As I stared at the empty water this morning, I pondered how attached I get to simple things like having coots in winter. And, how it messes with me when my expected attachments don’t do the expected.

Maybe it’s a New Year’s message for me, a foretelling of what’s to come in 2017. Perhaps, it is going to be a year of letting go of the way I expect things to be because the times they are a changin.’ (I’m hoping some of those changes are good.)

Meanwhile, coots have a later migration when they move to favorite breeding locations. So, maybe my friends will show up at last. Since February is a migration time, instead of swimming patterns, I’ll be watching some coot courting for Valentine‘s Day.

I hear during courtship, there is “billing, bowing, and nibbling.” With all the tweeting going on these days, by February, I’ll probably be ready for the distraction of kinky coot nibbling.


Nancy Blackmon is a former newspaper editor and a yoga teacher.