Coot Parenting?

by Skip Via
skip@westvalleynaturalists.org

Both male and female coots sharing parenting responsibilities for their brood. However, they are not notoriously good parents, at least in one sense of the term. Coots usually hatch 7-9 chicks, but the parents–by some pretty draconian means–like to get that number down to a more feedable 3 or 4. How they do it is…not pretty.

In the video below, you’ll see how this is accomplished. Coot chicks swim at a very young age, usually 3 or 4 days. They will beg the parents for food, which is initially given to all of the chicks in the brood. But there is a catch to most chick broods. It turns out that coots are brood parasites, meaning in this case that a female who does not find any nesting territory of her own will deposit her eggs into other coots’ nests.

That might seem like a pretty good plan, but it turns out that after the chicks are a few days old, coot parents will begin to attack them by grabbing them by the head or neck and shaking them violently. After a few more days, the parents single out only certain chicks to attack, feeding only the 3 or 4 that they will raise. The others stop asking the parents for food–wouldn’t you?–and eventually starve to death. The chicks they continue to feed are the ones that were born first, whether or not they were the actual offspring of the parents. It’s thought that these are more typically the actual offspring, as the brood parasite mother would likely have laid her eggs in an already occupied nest and therefore the chicks, being younger, would hatch later.

Whatever the reason, the sight of a parent attacking a chick is a bit unnerving. But here it is. (Video by Skip Via)

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