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Studer, Jacob Henry, 1840-1904. / Birds of North America

Plate XVII. The cinereous coot. (Fulica americana.),   p. 17

Page 17

measured full nine feet, and were extremely thin. The crop or
craw was of proportionate size, and the stomach large, resembling
an oblong pouch. Both crop and stomach contained half-digested
fish. The heart and lungs were large and strong. There was no
muscular gizzard. The female bird is about two inches longer
than the male. The upper portion of her head is less white than
that of the niale, and her breast is marked with brown streaks.
The Cinereous Coot. (Fulica americana.)
This species was formerly, by some ornithologists, classed among
the Natatores, or swimming birds proper; but its form, the com-
pressed body, and especially its mode of living, designate it clearly
as a connecting link between the Gallinules and the swimming
birds. It has a very strong resemblance, in the formation of its
whole body, to the Gallinules, except that its feet are lobed.
The Cinereous Coot usually makes its appearance in the State
of Ohio about the middle of April, stays the whole summer, and
leaves for the South when the rushes are destroyed by severe
This bird is found almost everywhere in Europe, but is repre-
sented in the southern parts by a related kind. It has been found
in middle Asia, and in its winter-quarters, in the interior of Africa.
It is probable, however, that one or the other observer may have in-
termixed the different related kinds, not having taken the trouble of
a close examination. In Great Britain it is said to be found at all
seasons, and does not seem to migrate to other countries, but merely
changes its station in autumn from the lesser pools or loughs, where
their young are reared, to the larger lakes, where these birds as-
semble in winter in large flocks. They are also found in Ger-
many. They avoid rivers and brooks as well as the sea, and pre-
fer still waters, who se borders are overgrown with rushes and reeds.
They are consequently most numerous in the marshes of the
larger lakes, and on the larger ponds. The time of their appear-
ance in the spring depends chiefly, it seems, on the melting of the
snow and ice. They remain in the same place during the whole
summer, and in autumn begin to wander, assembling sometimes in
immense flocks on the larger sheets of water, whence they migrate
to the South, usually in the latter part of October and in Novem-
The Coot is oftener seen on the water than on land, but frequents
the latter, especially during midday, to take a rest, and to clean
and put its plumage in order. Though the feet of the Coot are
rather awkwardly constructed for running, it runs tolerably well on
the ground; but spends by far the greater part of its life in swim-
ming.   Its feet are excellent rudders, for what their swimming
lobes are lacking in breadth, is made up by the length of the toes.
The Coot is also an expert diver, and contests the palm, in this re-
spect, with many real swimming birds. It dives to considerable
depths, and swims, with the help of its wings, great distances under
water. To escape danger, it always sinks itself in deep water.
Before it rises for a flight, it flutters for a great distance over the
surface, striking the water so violently with its feet that the noise
of the splashing can be heard at a great distance.
The Coot is very loquacious, chattering to its companions almost
incessantly. Its voice is a shrill " Kuw," and the shrillness,
time of anger, is doubled or even trebled. It also utters a short,
hard " Pitts," and at times a hollow guttural sound. It is a very
sociable bird among its own kind, except in the breeding season,
when each pair always strive to keep a certain district for them-
selves, into which they never suffer any other birds to enter. Even
in their winter-quarters, Coots do not like to see other swimming
birds, and make it a special point to drive away Ducks.
Aquatic insects and their larvae, worms and small shells, and
several kinds of vegetable matter, which they find in the water,
form the principal food of Cinereous Coots. They pick up
their food in swimming and diving, either from the surface, or by
diving after it to the bottom. Some Coots, kept in captivity, lived
for a whole winter exclusively on grain, and although they were
occasionally fed with small minnows, which they readily ate, they
seemed to prefer the grain. Whenever the Coot has settled on the
smaller ponds or swamps it begins to build its nest, which is formed
in the rushes near the water's edge. It is built on the trampled
down stocks of weeds and rushes, and is composed of the dry
stocks of the same. The upper layers and the interior consist of a
little finer material, such as the finer weeds, dry grass, and fibers.
The female lays, in the latter part of May, from seven to twelve
eggs, rather large in proportion to the size of the bird, having a
fine but hard shell, of a yellowish brown color, sprinkled over with
dark ash colored and blackish brown dots, chiefly on the large end.
The eggs are hatched in about twenty or twenty-one days. As
soon as the young quit the shell and are dry, they plunge into the
water, and dive and swim with the greatest ease, but always cluster
again about the mother, taking shelter under her wings, while the
male warns and protects them from danger. For a considerable
time they return nightly to their nest; but gradually they separate
more and more from the parents. Long before they are fully
fledged, they become independent of parental care.
The female Coot frequently breeds twice in a season, but may
be called lucky if she raises one-half of the young she hatches.
Great havoc is made among them, before they have learned by ex-
perience to defend themselves, by the Marsh Hawk and other kinds
of the Hawk tribe, as well as by turtles.
A Coot is found in Europe, the Fulica Atra, resembling the
American, though differing from it in having the bill and frontal
plate perfectly white, while on the American Coot the frontal plate
is always of a bright chestnut color. The Coot's gizzard is strong
and muscular, like that of a common hen. The male and female
are colored alike, except that the black on the head and neck of
the female is less brilliant. The flesh of the Coot, even that of the
young, makes an unsavory dish for the table.
The Pileated Woodpecker. (Hylatomus pileatus.)
Fig. x.
This Woodpecker, second only in size to any other, is a true
American bird, and may be called the chief of all northern Wood-
peckers. His range extends from Upper Canada, all over the
United States, to the Gulf of Mexico. He abounds most in the
North, in forests of tall trees, particularly in the neighborhood of
large rivers, where he is noted for his loud cries, especially before
wet weather. At such times he flies, restless and uneasy, from tree
to tree, making the forest echo with his outcries. In the State of
Ohio, and generally in all the Northern States, he is called the
Black Woodcock; in the Southern States they call him the Log-
cock. Every old trunk in the forest where he resides, bears more
or less the marks of his chisel-like bill. Whenever he finds a tree
beginning to decay, he subjects it to a close examination, in order
to find out the cause, going round and round it, and pulling the
bark off in strips often several feet long, laboring with astonishing
skill and activity. He has frequently been seen to strip the bark
from a dead pine tree, eight or ten feet down, in less than fifteen
minutes. Whatever he is doing, whether climbing, stripping off
bark, or digging, he seems to be always in great haste. He is ex-
tremely watchful and shy, and is consequently difficult to kill. He
clings closely to the tree after having received his mortal wound,
and does not even quit his hold with his last breath. If shot at or

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