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Old Friday 10th December 2004, 18:58   #1
Ronald Zee
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Coot and Moorhen behaviour

A couple of years ago I often did visit a lake on which banks a moorhen family lived. During the winter only one of the juveniles remained with its parents. Whenever I visted the lake I gave some bread to the moorhens. After a couple of months the juvenile ran towards me at full speed whenever it saw me approaching, it did so until it was about twenty metres away from me, then it slowed down its pace and looked left and right to make sure its parents were following. When the moorhens were a couple of metres from me I threw them some bread, the juvenile always took one piece and then ran back as fast as it could.

Around the same time I alway passed a little canal, on my way to work, where a coot family lived. One day I saw just one parent with four young, when I looked around I saw the male coot lying dead in the road, probably hit by a car. After a week or so of the four young only one remained. Then one day I didn’t see mother and young, when I went looking for them I found them both (to my surprise) in a very small pond not far from the canal, I was surprised by this because to reach the pond they had to cross a very very busy road. Then one morning when I passed the pond I saw only the young coot (who was about three weeks old), it was making a lot of noise because it was all alone and afraid. When I threw it some bread it did swim away from me, which it had never done before. So I started looking for the mother, I found her in the canal where she was probably looking for her mate which had suddenly disappeared, of course she did not know the male coot was lying dead in the road. While at work I was thinking that when I passed the pond later the young coot probably would have been eaten by a gull or heron. When I returned to the pond later I saw to my relief that the mother had returned and was on the nest with her young. This time the young coot climbed onto the bank towards me to eat some pieces of bread I had thrown on the bank, it must have felt safe now because its mother (who had stayed on the nest) was watching.

In another canal I was following another moorhen family, parents with two young. One day when I was watching the young (who were about four weeks old) they were being chased out of the water onto the bank by an adult coot. What they did then made me laugh but also suprised me, and I think the coot as well. When the two had run about two metres away from the waters edge they suddenly turned around and ran back again to the waters edge, (where the coot still was), when they had come there they did make their typical prrr prrr sound and did this while taking a few steps back and forth. The coot just looked at them and then sway away and, believe me or not, he did look back twice to the young moorhens.

A couple of months later there was second brood, this time there were four young. One day I saw three of the young moorhens of about three weeks old on the bank, they were walking around at the bottom of a tree, they had come there after they had descended several steps, after I had watched them for a while I realised they could not go back again because the steps were to high. One of the parents was in the canal with one of the juveniles and one of the younger ones. The other parent was nervously walking around on a little wall watching the three chicks. I then decided to catch them and to put them back in the water, when I approached them the parent on the wall started to shriek alarmingly. Then to my amazement the other juvenile, who was sitting on the grass about 20 metres away (there was something wrong with one of its legs and was limping), suddenly flew to the place were the chicks were and placed itself, with outstretched wings, before the three chicks to protect them. I was so taken aback by this that I took several steps back, the three chicks then ran to a hole in the wall, thinking that perhaps this was a passage to the water I left. When I returned an hour later I saw the three chicks in the same spot and one of the parents still on the wall. A woman who lived acros the road was also watching them, this time with her help, she positioned herself before the hole, I could grab the chicks and put them back in the water with the rest of the family. The parents must have felt relieved but they were also shocked because they kept on shrieking for several minutes. What amazed me most of all was that the juvenile came to protect the three chicks instead of the parent on the wall.

Last edited by Ronald Zee : Sunday 12th December 2004 at 06:29.
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Old Monday 13th December 2004, 19:08   #2
Darren Oakley-Martin
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Interesting Ronald!

Coots are rather aggressive birds. Perhaps someone with more knowledge could comment on this behaviour?

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Old Monday 13th December 2004, 20:49   #3
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Moorhens often have young from a previous clutch acting as 'aunts' to later broods...this is normally seen as helping to feed the chicks whilst the adults are brooding another clutch of eggs but this is the first time I have heard of a 'teenager' actively attempting to protect the chicks!
Two wonderful sites about Moorhens are below...

http://www.holt-wilson.freeserve.co.uk/moorhens.htm

http://www.moorhen.demon.co.uk

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Old Monday 13th December 2004, 21:03   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ronald Zee
The parents must have felt relieved but they were also shocked because they kept on shrieking for several minutes. What amazed me most of all was that the juvenile came to protect the three chicks instead of the parent on the wall.
Hi Ronald

A fascinating series of observations!
It is not unusual for juvenile moorhens from the first broods to assist with the care for subsequent broods. This behaviour trait is not particularly widespread throughout many species of bird, though if my memory served me correctly Winter Wrens can exhibit similar behaviour!

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Old Friday 4th March 2005, 22:53   #5
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Tonight when I cycled to work I did pass a little meadow at 22.15, when I looked up into a tree that was on the bank of it I did see about 25 Moorhens in it, some were as high up as 4 metres.

I had never seen such a big Moorhen roost before, has anyone else?
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Old Thursday 31st March 2005, 13:33   #6
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Today I saw a Moorhen busy eating the petals of a purple Crocus, it probably is quite common, but in the 7 years that I have been observing Moorhens I had never seen it.
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Old Thursday 31st March 2005, 13:48   #7
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I have never seen more than two moorhen at one time and i just thought that they slept on the water just like ducks and geese Some very interesting behavior going on there very intresting
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Old Thursday 31st March 2005, 15:49   #8
Ronald Zee
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Quote:
Originally Posted by timmyjones
I have never seen more than two moorhen at one time and i just thought that they slept on the water just like ducks and geese Some very interesting behavior going on there very intresting
Tim

Moorhens are not as gregarious as lots of other birds, the most I have seen together were 40.
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Old Sunday 10th April 2005, 12:08   #9
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Coots and Gulls.

Yesterday I saw something that I also saw some time ago.

In a river I saw 2 Yellow Legged Gulls fighting when suddenly a Coot (which was about 30 metres away) came running/wings flapping towards the Gulls and plunged between them to break up the fight.

I know Coots can be very short tempered when other birds are coming too close to their nests but in this case the Coots had not yet begun building one.


A couple of years ago on the last day of the year I saw a guy, who passed by in a car, throw some fire crackers in the same river, they exploded before they hit the water.

There were about 200 overwintering Coots and about 100 Gulls in the river, when the fire crackers exploded all the Gulls flew upwards in a spiral for a couple of 100 metres until they almost weren’t visible anymore. Meanwhile all the Coots had gathered very close together in a circle all the while making a lot of noise.
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Old Tuesday 3rd May 2005, 16:27   #10
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During the past week I have seen Coots in various defense/attack actions.

The first time was when a duckling was attacked by a Coot which kept pecking it on the head several times, the duckling tried to escape by diving but every time it surfaced the Coot attacked it again. I distracted the Coot by throwing a bit of bread, this allowed the duckling to escape.

Later I saw a Labrador dog on the grass next to a pond, a Coot which was nearby then immediately took on a defensive posture, it did this by facing the dog and arching its wings.

This afternoon a saw a couple of Coots which were feeding their young, when the male Coot spotted a Heron standing some 15 metres away it immediately flew/ran towards it and chased it away.
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Old Tuesday 3rd May 2005, 16:57   #11
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nice to see healthy interest in a often ignored bird.

both coots and moorhens are intereting birds to watch and great for the kids, as you can get quite close views. i still take time out from other birds to watch the moorhens and coots in my area, they can be pretty numerous on the fields near to ponds on my patch. often see around 50+ moorhens scattered along the field, and around 30+ coots, but they tend to stay around the waters edge.
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Old Wednesday 4th May 2005, 19:11   #12
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Salty, Coots were the first birds that got me into birdwatching, I used to watch a couple from a window at work with young and then started following their progress.

Today I heard a Coot produce a sound I had never heard before, it was a sad wailing sound, when I got close I saw that a Coot was floating dead in the river and the other one (probably it's partner) was close to it making this sad sound every now and then.
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Old Saturday 11th June 2005, 11:18   #13
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Yesterday I saw an adult Coot and young at the far end of a pond, when I threw some bread in the water the adult come running/wings flapping towards me. Then I saw something I had never seen before, directly in its path to me the Coot saw a branch sticking out of the water, about 30 cm high, it then jumped over it like it was a hurdle.
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Old Sunday 26th June 2005, 18:32   #14
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A couple of days ago I saw an adult female Coot with her leg pulled up as if injured, when I was closer to it I saw that a mussle had attached itself to her leg. Today when I visited this place again I saw that the mussle had gone and the Coot could move freely again.

Yesterday when I visited a Coot nest I did only see 3 chicks of about 4 weeks old and not a parent in sight. Today only one chick remained, the oldest, and still no sight of the parents. The parents could have died or have left, or one died and then the other decided to leave. On Friday night there was a terrible thunderstorm, for all I know the parents were so frightened they left the chicks on their own. Well I decided to help it by feeding it a bit of bread, apple and mealworms, which it took to immediately. I did visit the young Coot 2 times today and each time it was in the company of a young Moorhen, when the young Coot lied down to rest on the nest the young Moorhen stood next to it. I shall visit this young Coot everyday as long as possible and hope it survives and I wonder how this friendship will develop.
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Old Thursday 7th July 2005, 23:02   #15
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Well, against all odds the young Coot is still alive.

During the last 12 days I did feed it mealworms (it has developed a real appetite for this) and some bread and every day it was in the company of 2 or 3 young Moorhens, birds it normally would not have associated with if it's parents had still been there.

I also found a dead Coot on the bank near the nest, could be one of the parents.

Today when I arrived at the little canal I saw to my surprise an adult Coot. I had seen a couple with one young several times about 500 metres further along the canal around a bend but today I only saw one adult Coot there without a young and apparently the other adult has now reached this part of the canal. They probably have lost the young they had.

To my surprise the adult Coot sometimes fed the young one although one time it did push the youngster under water. I think the adult Coot still has the urge to feed and that's why it fed this youngster a couple of times.

Of course it could be one of the original parents but I don't think so because it did not really try to feed the young one in the normal way.

So I realy wonder what I will find tomorrow when I get there, will the adult Coot still be there, or will the other adult have joined the other one, will the young Coot still be alive and not be killed by the adults. Exciting times for a Cootologist like me.

Last edited by Ronald Zee : Tuesday 12th July 2005 at 21:04.
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Old Tuesday 12th July 2005, 21:04   #16
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The day after I saw this unknown adult Coot at the little canal with this young parentless Coot (about 6 weeks old now) the other adult had reached it, I think it is the male but to my surprise he chased away the female. The young Coot hid itself when this male approached, later when this male went to the other part of the canal the young one reappeared. The female remained in its vicinity, but I don't think it is one of the parents, a parent would feed it instead of eating the mealworms itself, and a parent would have build a nest for the young one. It did again feed it several times but like the day before it also tried to push it under water.

Today when I went to the little canal I saw the female Coot but the young one was nowhere in sight, when I went to the other end I saw it (again) in the company of a young Moorhen, the adult male has left.

When I cycled back home I passed the stretch of the long canal which is next to a railway track where I had seen the Coot couple with a young one, in the reeds is a Moorhen's nest, when I stopped to feed them some bread the whole Moorhen family came out of the reeds, parents with 5 young and to my great surprise in the middle a young Coot (also about 6 weeks old). One of the adult Moorhens fed this young Coot.

So, this Coot couple have not lost their young but also abandoned it, I wonder what has happened, the female for some reason stays in this little canal and does not venture out. Maybe the male abandoned the young and chased the female away, who knows.

So what an odd situation, in the little canal is a parentless young Coot with a female who apparently abandoned her own young, and around the bend in the long part of the canal about 500 metres away is a Moorhen family which adopted this abandoned a young Coot.

Here a picture of the young parentless Coot with his Moorhen "friends"
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Last edited by Ronald Zee : Wednesday 13th July 2005 at 07:08.
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Old Thursday 21st July 2005, 17:25   #17
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Today the young parentless Coot (I will call it A) was all alone, his Moorhen friends nor the female Coot (B) were in the little canal.

The female Coot did feed the young several times during the last week but only when I threw it some mealworms, when I trew some bread she did just eat it all.

The young Coot that female B abandoned is still in the company of the Moorhen family about 500 metres further up the canal around a bend. Today when I went there it was all by itself but a bit later the adult Moorhens appeared and started feeding it.
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Old Thursday 21st July 2005, 19:16   #18
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Advice!

Hello Ronald and other Coot experts. I know absolutely nothing about Coots so I'm looking for some advice from you.

My garden backs onto a small canal and a pair of Coots decided to make their nest there. They choose to build the nest on a plank of wood that is floating in the water. The plank of wood is attached to a post at the end of my garden with a piece of rope. (My husband placed it there to give ducks and coots a place to rest out of water). The Coots produced 8 eggs. Two of the young have survived. They are a few months old I think. (They don't have red heads anymore.)

Yesterday the nest became so heavy that it slipped off the wood and is now lost at the bottom of the canal. The parents are now busy trying to build another nest, but the bad weather means that all the vegetation is blowing off the wooden plank into the water.

My questions - for how long do they need to have a nest, i.e. is it a big problem for them that suddenly they no longer have a nest? If they do need a nest, is there anything that I can do to help them quickly rebuild it?
And a question just out of interest: why did they choose to build a nest in such an exposed place - the wooden plank is practically out in the open There are no reeds or rushes at the end of my garden to hide or protect the nest.
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Old Thursday 21st July 2005, 19:42   #19
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Hi Eevie

Coots build their nests in the most unlikely places, sometimes well hidden between the reeds but most of the time out in the open, sometimes even on the bank of a canal etc which can be very uncovenient for the young because once they have left the nest they can't get onto the bank anymore and after a time become tired and drown.

I shouldn't worry too much about these young because, as you wrote they are a couple of months old, almost time to leave their parents. Young Coots do need a nest during the first 4 or 5 weeks, to sleep or rest, but young Coots are very hardy, just look at the young one I am writing about, since it was about 4 weeks it had to fend for itself and also couldn't use it's nest anymore because that was destroyed by Ducks.

To give you an indication of their age, during the first 4 weeks they have red hairs on their heads then this disappears and their breast become white, this lasts until they are about 9 weeks old, then they become completely grey.
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Old Friday 22nd July 2005, 09:08   #20
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Thanks for your reply Ronald. That has put my mind at rest and I can stop worrying about those young coots now. But I will miss them when they eventually decide to leave my garden!

During their first few weeks they suffered repeated attacks from seagulls. So next year I am planning to build a small wooden house on the water to offer them a safer place to nest.
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Old Friday 22nd July 2005, 13:59   #21
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Eevie

I think most people who follow young birds from the moment they are born till they are old enough to leave their parents become somehow attached to them.

Seagulls, like Herons, are the birds who are responsible for most of the young Coots and Moorhens who disappear.
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Old Monday 15th August 2005, 08:17   #22
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Last week Tuesday August 8 was the last time I saw my little friend Coot A, it apparently left the little canal. In the couple of weeks before it had often been in the company of female Coot B who often fed the young one, but I also saw it all alone, his Moorhen friends having left the little canal at the end of July. At about 10 to 11 weeks of age it is rather young to leave, but it had always been quite independant. Female Coot B is now all alone in the little canal, her young one that she abandoned is still further up the canal with the Moorhen family that adopted it.

Here a picture of young Coot B with the Moorhen family, it is the one on the right.
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