As I wrote in an earlier post on the American coot (Fulica americana), “Although they eat aquatic plants and will pick at terrestrial vegetation, they are not strictly vegetarian and will also take insects, crustaceans and small vertebrates.” Although American coots forage by tipping into the water, diving from the surface or walking along the shore, I always visualize coots dipping and plucking vegetation from the shallow water bottom. I have never thought about or read of coots as scavengers.
Recently at Eagle Lake (Lassen County CA) a coot’s diet surprised me. It was early in the morning and still foggy (hence the “fuzzy” pictures) as I approached the shoreline from behind some rocks. A coot was at water’s edge eating something. As soon as he saw me Mr. Coot grabbed his breakfast and swam about fifteen feet from the shore. He had been eating the entrails from a recently cleaned trout when I disturbed him. I watched in fascination as the coot took (or broke off) a bite then dropped his prize into the water. After a few seconds the coot dove, surfaced with the entrails, broke off another piece to eat and dropped the remaining scrap back in the water. This went on for about twenty minutes. Eventually the bit of entrails became small enough that the coot gave up retrieving it and swam away. How interesting! I did not realize a coot would scavenge. Perhaps coots are more adaptable that I imagined.
Ducks and other coots were in the near vicinity and swam to within a few feet of the feeding American coot that I was watching. But to my amazement no other bird tried to join the feast.
Always something interesting to observe and learn!