Are the American coots really coot?

Nature of the cuckoo duck – David Attenborough – BBC wildlife on YouTube
There are several examples of birds like cuckoos and cowbirds laying their eggs in other birds’ nest. This behaviour is called brood parasitism. The interesting phenomenon is that the adult host will still feed the chicks of those birds mentioned earlier despite the obvious difference in size between its own chicks and the parasitic chicks. So are all birds as foolish as those hosts shown in the video? The answer is no.

An adult coot can recognize its own chicks and will attack a parasitic chick that hatches in its nest. Photo by B. Lyon.

An adult coot can recognize its own chicks and will attack a parasitic chick that hatches in its nest. Photo by B. Lyon.

The American coot, Fulica Americana is a good example of a bird which is able to not be like those hosts that are made use by cuckoo and cowbirds. The American coot will display brood parasitism on its own species. The females will usually lay a few eggs in the nests next to theirs to increase the chances of survival of their offspring due to the lack of food in its habitat. The host coot will place the parasitic eggs in position which will delay the hatching of the eggs or bury them deep down into the nesting materials (Stephens, 2003). “With the parasitic chicks, they don’t just let them starve, they attack them with a viciousness we hadn’t seen before.” said Lyon (Stephens, 2009). This has happened as the coots are able to imprint on their first-hatched chicks due to the fact that their eggs usually hatched first and the parasitic eggs are only deposited on the nest when there are eggs in it (Stephens, 2009).
In a habitat with limited food, the coots are forced to develop such ability to ensure that they have more potential offspring of their own. But it is still a surprising finding as the coots are named as coots for a reason.

References
1.”Soap opera in the marsh: Coots foil nest invaders, reject impostors,” by Tim Stephens. Published on 16 Dec 2009. URL:http://www.ucsc.edu/news_events/text.asp?pid=3445 (assessed on 5th April 2009).
2. “Coots can count: Study shows surprisingly sophisticated nesting behavior in common marsh birds” by Tim Stephens. Published on 7th April 2003. URL:http://www.ucsc.edu/currents/02-03/04-07/coots.html(assessed on 5th April 2009).

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