Tag Archives: American Coot

The swamphens, mudhens and moorhens of Green Cay

“Welcome to Green Cay!” announces the Red-winged Blackbird, the unofficial mascot of the reconstructed wetlands habitat in western Boynton Beach that is managed by Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation.

Link: Green Cay Nature Center and Wetlands.

A one-and-a-half-mile long boardwalk traverses 100 acres of wetland habitat with SO MANY BIRDS to see! And other creatures too.

Porphyrio poliocephalus is preposterous and pretty.

The Gray-headed Swamphen…

is related to Florida’s native Common Gallinule, Purple Gallinule, and American Coot, the bigger, bulkier Swamphen looks superficially like a Purple Gallinule on massive doses of steroids. The Swamphen is an Old World species and is a relatively recent newcomer to Florida’s wetlands, being first recorded in Pembroke Pines, Florida in 1996, having likely escaped or been released from a private bird collection.

The Common Gallinule is the most common of the rail family in Florida, and possibly North America. Old timers call them moorhens.

Green Cay is a great place to see moorhens, swamphens, mudhens – all strange, long-legged denizens of freshwater marshes and members of the Rail family, Raillidae.

“Rail” is the anglicized respelling of the French râle, from Old French rasle. It is named from its harsh cry, in Vulgar Latin rascula, from Latin rādere (“to scrape”).

You would not think the striking colors of a Purple Gallinule provide camouflage… until you see these birds among blossoming pickerel weed.

Lurking in the marshes of the extreme southeastern U.S. lives one of the most vividly colored birds in all of North America. Purple Gallinules combine cherry red, sky blue, moss green, aquamarine, indigo, violet, and school-bus yellow, a color palette that blends surprisingly well with tropical and subtropical wetlands. Watch for these long-legged, long-toed birds stepping gingerly across water lilies and other floating vegetation as they hunt frogs and invertebrates or pick at tubers.

Another purple flower in the swamp: alligator flag.

Large leaves of the alligator flag, a native Florida wetlands plant.

Looking down from my dry perch on the boardwalk, I spied a Common Gallinule with a mostly-bald chick.

The chicks are precocial, leaving the nest one day after hatching. Parents feed them for about three weeks.

Not something you see every day! And one of many good reasons to get to Green Cay in spring.

An American Coot makes an appearance.

The waterborne American Coot is one good reminder that not everything that floats is a duck. A close look at a coot—that small head, those scrawny legs—reveals a different kind of bird entirely. Their dark bodies and white faces are common sights in nearly any open water across the continent, and they often mix with ducks. But they’re closer relatives of the gangly Sandhill Crane and the nearly invisible rails than of Mallards or teal.

The American Coot is also known as a mudhen.

I’ve only seen these birds a few times. I could hear a couple of old guys nearby talking about what they were seeing and I could tell they knew their birds so I doublechecked and asked, “Can you tell me, is that an American Coot?”

One of them said, “Yes, that’s an American Coot… and we’re Old Coots.”

These old coots know their coots and rails.

Another one of the preposterous swamphens (Gray-headed) snacking on roots and shoots.

More on this non-native bird from the first time I saw one, in October 2017: Escaped swamphens thrive in Florida wetlands.

If you crossed a small purple dinosaur with a backyard hen you would get the Gray-headed Swamphen. They do run around (seemingly on top of the water) like sleeker, more athletic chickens. Their feather colors are beautiful.

The mascots of Green Cay are also the guardians of Green Cay. These Red-winged Blackbirds said, “Not in my backyard!” to this Red-shouldered Hawk.

Birds, the Beast and Blue Cypress

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Our sweet ride awaits, the bug-eye green boat that is the Marsh Beast. Birdwatching by airboat, oh yeah! We did that yesterday morning.

Audubon of Martin County organized the trip with Captain Kenny Elkins of Marsh Beast Airboat Tours.

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Our trip was in Blue Cypress Conservation Area, west of Vero Beach, an hour north of home. INFO and MAP

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We could get a really nice view of some birds from the boat, like this Anhinga at rest.

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Guys fishing and an osprey nest.

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Two juveniles and one adult in this photo.

Captain Kenny said this is one of the few nests with juveniles still in it.

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Another airboat coming in for a look.

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We saw lots of Ospreys during our trip.

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Ma or Pa Osprey.

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The Osprey kids’ brown feathers have more white on them than the adult.

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That’s a fine young bird!

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Osprey at rest. Big wings like a cloak.

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Osprey in motion…almost a great photo!

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We came upon some small black fuzzy creatures in the floating vegetation.

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They are seemingly running on top of the water.

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They were Purple Gallinule chicks, we were told.

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Long legs and long toes make them look funny if you are more used to hen chicks than swamphen chicks.

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Looks like a little wetland roadrunner.

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There’s an adult.

A beautifully colored bird of southern and tropical wetlands, the Purple Gallinule can be see walking on top of floating vegetation or clambering through dense shrubs. Its extremely long toes help it walk on lily pads without sinking.

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On the move.

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Iridescent.

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More chicks.

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Adult coming in for a landing.

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Purple Gallinule chicks.

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Coming up on an alligator.

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Alligator spotting is an important part of any airboat trip in Florida, right?

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A Least Bittern!.. a new bird for me.

A tiny heron, furtive and surpassingly well camouflaged, the Least Bittern is one of the most difficult North American marsh birds to spot.

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What a beauty!

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Thanks to its habit of straddling reeds, the Least Bittern can feed in water that would be too deep for the wading strategy of other herons.

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I think this is a male, because its back and crown are almost black. Females’ crown and back are brown, according to Cornell.

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A short flying hop to some new reeds.

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Shake it off.

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Thank you for posing, little bittern.

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Common Gallinule.

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We watched one big gator for a while.

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And he watched us.

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Scenery.

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Great Blue Heron in a mat of water hyacinth.

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We investigated an area I’ll called Egret Town.

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Great Egret.

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Three Greats.

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Big wings, big feathers.

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Great Egret wingspan is four-and-a-half to five-and-a-half feet.

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Another Common Gallinule.

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It was nice to have a breeze when we were on the move on a typically warm Florida summer morning.

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Nice golden slippers, Snowy Egret. Another one of those just-missed-it action photos, oh well.

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Birds and beast.

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American Coot.

Captain Kenny said they are normally here in winter, not summer.

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Coot relocating.

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Decorating the tree a bit early this year, in Egret Town.

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Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets.

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More gallinule chicks.

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An older gallinule chick among the lotus?

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These lovely lotus are native plants, we learned.

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Lotus blossom.

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Anhinga in the treetops, my last bird of the trip.

Park birds, pond

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We went to Indian Riverside Park yesterday in the late afternoon. But why did I take so many pictures of birds! Oh well, because I love them. Here they are…

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Woot! it’s a Coot!

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I have never photographed and IDed an American Coot, until now!

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Duck, Mottled.

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Little Blue Heron, a grownup in its inky dark plumage.

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Snowy Egret.

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Standing still.

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That ol’ coot.

You’ll find coots eating aquatic plants on almost any body of water. When swimming they look like small ducks (and often dive), but on land they look more chickenlike, walking rather than waddling.

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The pond in the park was clearly the avian place to be.

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White Ibises, a coot and a Little Blue Heron.

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Also a few Cattle Egrets.

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A brief kerfuffle among the Mottled Ducks.

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Then all was well again.

Compared to other species of ducks, pair formation occurs early, with nearly 80% of all individuals paired by November. Breeding starts in January, continuing through to July and usually peaking in March and April.

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The male has a yellow bill, the female orange.

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Coots are tough, adaptable waterbirds. Although they are related to the secretive rails, they swim in the open like ducks and walk about on shore, making themselves at home on golf courses and city park ponds.

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Worth a read from Audubon.org The Sketch… The American Coot: A Tough-Love Parent.

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Bills can be swords, reminds the Cattle Egret.

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Cattle Egrets have broad, adaptable diets: primarily insects, plus other invertebrates, fish, frogs, mammals, and birds. They feed voraciously alone or in loose flocks of up to hundreds. Foraging mostly on insects disturbed by grazing cattle or other livestock, they also glean prey from wetlands or the edges of fields that have been disturbed by fire, tractors, or mowing machinery. Grasshoppers and crickets are the biggest item on their menu, which also includes horse flies, owlet moths and their larvae, cicadas, wolf spiders, ticks, earthworms, crayfish, millipedes, centipedes, fish, frogs, mice, songbirds, eggs, and nestlings.

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Another place birds find food in the park is from people. I was across the pond and couldn’t see what she was feeding them. The dogs were doing an amazing job of ignoring the birds… for treats?

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Another member of the Rallidae family (Rails, Galllinules and Coots): the Common Gallinule.

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The Common Gallinule inhabits marshes and ponds from Canada to Chile. Vocal and boldly marked with a brilliant red shield over the bill, the species can be quite conspicuous. It sometimes uses its long toes to walk atop floating vegetation. This species was formerly called the Common Moorhen and is closely related to moorhen species in the Old World.

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Whoa, those toes!

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A couple of nonnatives, Egyptian Geese, were enjoying the feeding from the ladies with the dogs.

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Ibis, ibis, goose.

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There are some feral populations of Egyptian geese in the area. They are probably more closely related to shelducks than geese. They were sacred to the ancient Egyptians.

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Facsimile Painting of Geese, Tomb of Nefermaat and Itat, ca. 2575-2551 from The Met.