web analytics

American Coots coming to Chautauqua

Posted on Nov 17, 2013

In the last couple of weeks I have seen thousands of American Coot (Fulica americana) across Chautauqua County. They have started to pour into our region during this migratory period along with other types of waterfowl. These unique birds are quite different than the average duck, grebe or goose, though. The photo below shows several of them hanging out at a boat ramp at Dunkirk Harbor.

AMCO Dunkirk Harbor Lake Erie

This Lake Erie location held approximately 303 of the species when I visited on November 11. As you can see they are definitely not ducks and actually belong to the Rallidae family. They visit our lakes to feed on aquatic vegetation that they will enjoy for as long as the food lasts and the water stays unfrozen. Chautauqua Lake holds a very impressive number of American Coot at this time of the year as even visiting one location (especially areas in Mayville lately) can yield a few rafts of hundreds of individuals. Their presence in such an abundance is one of the reasons why Chautauqua Lake is an Important Bird Area. Here is a photo of one such raft that I took in Mayville while moderate lake effect snow was falling.

AMCO raft Chautauqua Lake snow

Binoculars help but for the best viewing you will definitely want to bring a spotting scope. I ended up counting off around 800 American Coot from this raft and the others which is a strong total considering it is only from this one location! Adding in a few more for those hiding underwater while I scanned I came to approximately 830. I am certain the total must be a few times that across all of Chautauqua Lake on select days. While sorting through the birds during my count I was able to pick out other species mixed in like Bufflehead, Pied-billed Grebe and Ruddy Duck with dozens of each present. A few Mallard, a couple Red-breasted Mergansers, a Common Loon and even several Black Scoters added to the tally.

I have not had any Tundra Swan yet but I know some have passed through according to other observers. This isn’t even mentioning additional birds like Redheads, Greater and Lesser Scaup, Canvasback, American Wigeon, Ring-necked Duck – there are so many spectacular species in our backyards feeding in this freshwater oasis and I intend to see as many as possible this fall and winter during my first cold season in western New York.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation & Outreach Coordinator

Photos © Scott Kruitbosch