Friday, November 9, 2012

The swimming ‘chicken’

Coot (Fulica atra)
The coot is an aquatic bird easily identified by its black plumage and the white beak and facial shield. It is the size of a fat chicken, in fact, in Maltese it is called tiġieġa tal-baħar

Coots spend most of their time in water and although they do climb on land you are unlikely to see them out of water in the Maltese islands. 

Like ducks coots use their legs and feet to propel themselves through the water but their feet are not webbed like those of ducks but palmate, that is, they have flaps of skin along the sides of their toes.

They are not strong flyers although they can migrate over relatively long distances.

In Malta coots can be seen from early autumn to late spring mainly at the Għadira and Is-Simar nature reserves. 

A visit to these two reserves is a guarantee that you will see this species as they are all the time actively swimming on the water. In winter they prefer to swim together as a flock but during the breeding season they are more solitary and keep chasing each other noisily away. 

Although this is not the breeding season such behaviour can be seen in the coots which are presently living at Is-Simar.

The habitat at Is-Simar is just right for these birds which prefer marsh lands with ample vegetation especially reeds, which provides them with food and cover throughout the year. 

The habitat there is so much to their liking that coots bred in this reserve twice, in 2008 and in 2009. They will hopefully breed there again in the future.

The coot is not the only all black bird that you can see in the two reserves. The moorhen, which has been breeding in the Maltese islands for nearly three decades, is also easily recognised by being slightly smaller and by having a red and yellow beak.

This article was published in The Times on 07.11.2012.

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