The huge, goofy-looking feet of coots aren’t made to run on anything, least of all extremely slick ice.
Yesterday I spent some time photographing birds at a pond near my home. Much of the pond was frozen but there’s two areas of open water separated from each other by about 50 yards of ice and most of the birds congregate where the water is open. That set up a hilarious scenario with coots.
Coots apparently feel vulnerable to predators when they’re on the ice (presumably because they can’t dive to escape) so whenever one of them felt the need to move from one patch of open water to the other it would attempt to run as fast as it could across the ice to reach the safety of the water on the other side. The sun had come out and it had warmed up just enough that there was a thin layer of water on top of the ice so it was incredibly slick.
All images are presented in the order they were taken.
I spotted this one when it was still far away but approaching the open water in front of me fast (I don’t know the sex of the bird but for the sake of convenience I’ll refer to it as a male). Typically they don’t use their wings when they’re running but every time his feet would slip on the ice his wings would come out for stability.
But time and time again his legs would come out from under him and he’d have to try to recover (keep in mind he’s running fast the entire time).
Those silly looking and very long lobed toes didn’t make his task any easier.
It often seemed like his feet were determined to go in a completely different direction than he was.
Occasionally he’d make a few steps without slipping and that gave him enough confidence to fold his wings and attempt to run normally.
But it never lasted long before his feet went their own way again.
He seemed to be perpetually off-balance.
One foot or the other always seemed to be going its own way.
Here he’s slowed down slightly because the water’s edge that he’s approaching was thickly packed with gulls and other birds and he was obviously starting to think about picking a spot where he could squeeze between the gulls and get in the water.
But even at that slower speed he couldn’t keep his feet beneath him as he tried to change direction slightly.
Here he’s picked a spot between the two gulls at bottom to access the water.
But he was still running fairly fast…
so his feet continued to be uncooperative.
This coot definitely wasn’t having any fun.
But eventually he did reach the water (at lower left).
I can only imagine his sense of relief as he stopped running, folded his wings and plopped into the safety of the water.
I took 92 images of the coot as he was slip-sliding across the ice and I was laughing so hard the entire time I’m amazed any of them are sharp. Other than this bird I was pretty much skunked on the pond so a little comic relief was welcome entertainment.
PS – Apologies for not providing image techs but with this many images I simply ran out of time.
PSS – Is anyone else hearing Paul Simon’s “Slip Slidin’ Away” in their heads about now? I got that ear worm so out of the goodness of my heart I decided to share… 🙂