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Shannon Bardwell: A welcome old coot


Shannon Bardwell



It's a strange sight to see a bird swimming through the clear water, a bream -- a small bass, a carp, a turtle, followed by a bird. It all started when Sam hollered out, "There's a bird under the dock."  


Near the dock a bird suddenly popped up from under the water; the bird was a coot. I wondered why the coot was all alone and suggested he may have lost his mate. Sam said, "Maybe he's just an old coot." Sam's funny like that. 


The coot is a diving bird and will suddenly disappear under the water and reappear later. Sam doesn't seem to mind that the coot might be fishing, not like he minds the cormorants. Perhaps because he is a solitary bird, an old coot, and he is now our coot. 


The bird book says the American coot is a "duck-like" bird, gray in color with a white bill and frontal shield. He has lobed toes, though I could not see our coot's toes. His call is a variety of "clucks, cackles, grunts and other harsh notes." No doubt not a songbird. 


"Coots are the most aquatic members of their family, moving on open water like ducks and often feeding with them. They are excellent swimmers and divers, and they eat various aquatic plants." Oh good, Sam will like that, a plant-eater. 


The book says they will come out on land and feed on seeds, grass and grain. It says I might tame the coot by feeding it scraps of bread. I will have to tread lightly because while feeding the cats, the coot scooted under the dock again. Perhaps I can entice him with a bit of corn, "yellow acorns" we call it. The deer like it. I threw some orange peels, an abundance of parsley and the corn, all to no avail.  


Sam asked, "Is that parsley I see floating in the lake?" I confessed that it was. 


Here I am meddling in nature again. I could leave well-enough alone as the coot seems satisfied. I've been watching the coot as he dives suddenly as if he is capturing some imaginary prey. He comes up again with a bill full of wet vegetation. He shakes the wet weeds like a slain villain and slurps it down whole like spaghetti. 


There's one large branch in the pond where, on a warm day, the turtles sun. I watched the coot nudge the turtles off and command the post for himself. Later though, a turtle played one-on-one with the coot while they were both submerged in the water. The coot alternately aggressed then backed away, perhaps to protect those lobed toes.  


If I can figure out how to make the coot stay, I'll name him and make him my pet.  


On occasion I've asked for chickens, goats and peacocks, but so far all I've gotten is two old cats and a coot.  


Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie. Her email is [email protected]


Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.


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