The visual groupings of the black American Coots, bobbing upon Walker Lake’s shoreline can easily appear as scattered debris lapping the cold water edges. But upon closer look these black oddities, with their white nose strip above the beak, are known by various names such as the Common Scoter or the Black Scoter. With a duck-like form, hundreds can be seen floating and dipping into the lake’s surface waters as they remained waterborne in Mineral County while other species did not migrate to the lake in large numbers this year.
These beaky coots are feasting on the excessive brine shrimp which is evident by the thousands of mini shells found on the sandy, washed up shores. Known as a swamp bird, they are content picking from algae that creates plankton with fossil deposits or scavenging crustaceans from the aquatic group of tiny shrimp nestled into the silty soil. With the high saline structure within the lake, these birds are surviving without competition.
The oddness of the coot is found within their feet. One would think by appearance that they are part of the duck family, when in fact they are a relative of the Sandhill Crane. The coot has no webbing in their feet, but instead has long lobes with the appearance of fingers that kick the water and create a clumsy take off as their lift-off shows lanky feet oddly dangling in the air.
These birds nest in floating foliage or in the vegetation along the shoreline, laying a clutch of 12 eggs or less. The oldest coot on record was held in captivity for over 22 years. Although they are a suspicious breed and will only eat what is familiar, their choices remain smaller than a pea in size and if one bird accepts a new food entity, the others will follow.
A coot is known for its noisy calls and obnoxious interference with duck hunters. The coot will easily interrupt a hunter’s decoy by herding around it and making calls which discourage other ducks from arriving. This annoying display of mass whistling discourages hunters from attempts at duck hunting near a coot’s territory. The small coot is not known as an edible bird, although the breast meat has been used in some sausage recipes.
And so, the distant blackened, ink laden views along Walker Lake’s diminished shores are not blown debris. Instead it is the flocks of healthy coots that are content to eat and live along the salty waterfront.