The Parents

Remember Gwyndolyn’s goslings? They were born on May 4th. Interestingly, one hour after photographing Gwyndolyn and her new goslings, I photographed a pair of American coots copulating on the edge of her little island. I guess they felt inspired! Less than a month later, they were the proud parents of at least 7 coot chicks, two of which were photographed in my last post (those chicks are about 42 days old). Unlike ducks, coots do not have penises, so a male passes his sperm to a female via a “cloacal kiss”. Only 3% of bird species have males with penises. In the other species, there are genes which code for a penis but their expression is turned off by another gene called Bmp4[1]. Only birds in the two oldest lineages, Palaeognathae (ostriches and other flightless birds) and Galloanserae (land and water fowl like ducks, geese, chickens, grouse and pheasants) have penises. All other modern birds, including American coots (order Gruiformes), are in the clade Neoaves.

I recommend clicking on the first image to view all the images with accompanying text as a slideshow.

American coot pairs build their nests during the courtship period, before copulating. Their nests are often hidden within dense stands of cattails and/or bulrushes; they are small floating platforms, woven from dead stalks of vegetation and attached to living, vertical stalks. The female lays 8 to 12 eggs, one every 24 hours, or two eggs after a period of 48 hours. The male and female take turns incubating the eggs, and the eggs hatch asynchronously. The time elapsed between the last laid egg and the last hatched egg has been recorded at 23 to 27 days.[2]

The young are born precocial. They are capable of leaving the nest about 6 hours after hatching (they are buoyant after their down has dried and been fluffed) but they sometimes wait 1 or 2 days. One of the parents leaves the nest with the early hatchlings. When eight of the eggs have hatched, both parents usually leave the nest. If some eggs remain in the nest, they fail to hatch due to parental abandonment. A period of up to a week has been observed between the hatching of the first and last coot chick.[2]

I did get a photo of one of the coots carrying nest building materials 40 minutes before mating (May 4th, 7:28 am)!!!


Wee coot chick photographs coming in a future post!

[1] Herrera, A.M., Shuster, S.G., Perriton, C.L. and Cohn, M.J. (2013). Developmental basis of phallus reduction during bird evolution. Current Biology, 23(12), 1065-1074.

[2] Brisbin Jr., I. Lehr and Thomas B. Mowbray. (2002). American Coot (Fulica americana), The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America:

[3] Gullion, G. W. (1954). The reproductive cycle of American Coots in California. The Auk, 71, 366-412.


    • Lol! I did feel like a bit of a voyeur posting them too. Oddly, I actually once saw a couple of humans going at it in midday sunshine on the shore of this pond. I was looking through my camera lens at some coots and noticed some movement on the shore opposite from where I was standing. I focused my lens on that spot and woah! They were fully dressed but clearly… Very unusual! I briefly consider taking a photo but decided to move on to a nearby park instead. Thanks for your awesome comment! 🙂

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  1. Salut Myriam,
    Excellent reportage photo, c’est vraiment super de pouvoir décomposer comme cela les étapes de l’accouplement. Je ne savais pas que la femelle mettait la tête sous l’eau comme cela, sais-tu si c’est systématique ?
    Bravo en tout cas pour le timing et merci encore pour le partage 😉

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    • Salut Seb 🙂

      Merci pour ton gentil commentaire et cette question intéressante.

      Je crois que c’est systématique. Sa position est appelée “squat arch” dans “The Birds of North America”. L’information est tirée d’une étude publiée en 1954 par Gullion. Il a observé 5 couples de foulques pour deux saisons reproductive sur deux lacs dans la région de San Francisco. Les oiseaux de Gullion, contrairement à ceux-ci, se sont accouplés sur des platformes qu’ils avaient construites avec des quenouilles.

      J’ai mal noté le moment de copulation. Selon Gullion ce moment arrive quand la femelle se lève (l’avant-dernière photo). Maintenant que je re-regarde les photos, il me semble qu’il a raison.

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    • Thanks for your lovely comment, Jet. I’m glad you enjoyed the photos. 🙂

      I expected coot copulation to look like duck copulation but it was cool to find out that they have a different method. Plus, the male’s wing beats add beauty to the interaction.

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