Colourful Coot

The coot, a small black water bird with a white bill and shield on their forehead. A numerous bird, occupying seemingly every pond, lake, puddle or river in Britain. You only have to go to one of these bodies of water during the winter and the place can be teeming with them. Bobbing their heads back and forth, quarrelling with one another, and readily coming to areas where families feed the ducks. But return to the same place during the summer and there maybe only one or two present. Nesting for sure, pairing off onto territories and raising one or two broods. But where do all those birds that frequent large bodies of water during the winter go to breed? For a bird that is so common, we know little about their movements not only between summer and winter, but also their winter movements. Do they stay in the same place all, or do they move around?

Once again ringing is helping to answer some of these questions. In the hopes of increasing the reporting rate of the coots they ring, an intrepid group of ringers in the Lancashire area started adding colour rings.

Colour ringed coot

Catching coot is not as simple as putting a mist net up and hoping one bundle’s in. In most cases ringers use a variety of traps where the birds walk in, lured by a source of food a trigger a door mechanism. This group of ringers however have come up with a much more novel way, taking advantage of large groups of coot coming to public areas where ducks and geese are fed, especially during winter when food in the wider environment is not as readily available. Making the most of these feeding frenzies and the distracted birds, these guys simply reach down a grab a coot from the water!

In 2010 one of those colour ringed coots turned up on The Mere at Ellesmere, Shropshire, a large body of water, encircled by woodland, where all manner of birds gather. From sand martins in the summer to rafts of gulls and flocks of ducks during the winter. With this coot an idea began to take shape. Large numbers of ducks and geese are fed here throughout the year, and in winter the inevitable coverts of coot join in the fray. If the guys in Lancashire could catch coot by hand, why couldn’t we?

View Coot in a larger map – Blue Pin is Redesmere, Cheshire where the coot 
was ringed, with the Red Pin representing Ellesmere

Although not as prolific as the Lancashire ringers, and certainly not as regular, we have still managed to catch and colour ring 11 coot since starting in 2010. Today’s haul, a total of six birds, was pretty good considering the mild weather.

One of todays newly colour ringed coots AIA

So the next time you are out feeding the ducks, or maybe just taking a walk by the river, and you see those funny black and white water birds paddling in the water or strolling along the grassy verges pecking at your duck food, take a closer look those legs, you never know it may well have a ring and a colour ring to boot…


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