The American Coot is a unique bird. They are often observed swimming on lakes, rivers, and ponds. However, they do not have webbed feet. Coots propel themselves through the water with their wide lobed toes and are in fact not ducks, but members of the rail family. They are easily identified by their dark bodies, white foreheads and red eyes. Aquatic vegetation, both floating and submerged, make up the majority of the Coot’s diet; as is the case with many water birds, they also consume insects, crustaceans and other aquatic life. These submerged food sources mean the Coot is often observed diving while feeding.
Like many birds, American Coots begin migrating in the fall and form large flocks while doing so. Not all Coots go as far as the southern United States during winter months. In fact, several birds often overwinter in the lower Great Lakes region. Their diet makes open water a key to survival and they are one of many species found on the Detroit, St.Clair and even the Thames River during winter.
Last week I decided to head over to Westminster Ponds ESA for some evening birding and to take in the sunset. Upon arriving at Saunders Pond, I observed a small flock of nine American Coots feeding close to shore on the east side of the pond. I moved slowly and quietly to the edge of the pond for a closer look. The birds were undisturbed by my presence and were focused more on feeding. The low, golden sun illuminated the birds beautifully. I watched as the Coots dove repeatedly, emerging with strands of green vegetation. Several battles ensued, as those birds with food quickly had to elude those without. It was also a great opportunity to listen to the various sounds made by Coots, which range from squawks to grunts, and croaks.
On this particular evening I also observed three Pied-billed Grebes and a Horned Grebe in the same area of the pond. Wood Ducks were also abundant. Their loud calls made locating and counting these colourful ducks quite easy. It wasn’t long before a final total of eighteen was reached. Saunders Pond is an excellent place to observe these and other aquatic birds. As migration continues throughout fall and into winter, more species will show up as open water and food diminishes. Several duck species including Wigeon, Teal and Ring-necked are often observed. Common Loons have also been observed during migration.
Saunders Pond can be accessed from Commissioners Road by turning south onto Western Counties Road at Victoria Hospital. Follow the road past Parkwood Hospital where you will find parking with the pond a short walk further south. Access and parking is also available off Wellington Road, directly behind Tourist Information. If you or someone you know requires the aid of a mobility device then I recommend this entrance. Paved paths, a wooden lookout and boardwalk make this location and views of Saunders Pond accessible for everyone.
If observing waterfowl and other aquatic birds this fall is on your birding wishlist, then I highly suggest visiting Saunders Pond frequently this season. I hope to see you there.