Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.
Across Northern Iowa’s wetland strongholds, it’s been an excellent production year for mallards, wood ducks, and hoodeds. And although most folks aren’t seeming to notice, Iowa coots have also enjoyed an excellent nesting season. Coot broods are abundant, and most youngsters are now in the process of being “weaned” while they make the transition from down to feathers. When unattended broods happen to cross paths, there’s usually plenty of food and space to go around. Sometimes, however, the juvies just can’t resist starting a rumble. A good example of this occurred as I watched a group of three big downies as they busily fed on snails and submergents.
A second brood appeared around the corner and immediately swam over to greet their friends. The second group seemed slightly more advanced in age [or at least that’s the way they looked to me] and it wasn’t long before one of the larger birds had squared off with his cousin. The lesser bird stood its ground, even letting out a raspy squawk of defiance.
From there it was Game On as the intruder launched its attack. What happened next made me wish I’d been shooting video instead of stills. With chiseled beaks and talon-like claws, the birds went at it with a fury that you needed to see to believe.
With their beaks going like sewing machine needles in road gear and legs whirring like the blades of a rotor tiller — the coots flailed away.
As any Labrador retriever who’s ever messed with an injured mud hen will certainly tell you, the coot’s head and feet are not to be taken lightly. In the case currently at hand, it didn’t really appear as if either young coot was having much fun. As the battle raged, the larger bird ultimately gained the upper hand and finally drove its opponent completely below the surface.
By the time the pummeled youngster reappeared, it had clearly had enough. The bird instantly backed off — conducting an impressive Olympian-grade backstroke as it made its escape.
Hearing the commotion, an adult appeared from the cattails and came power stroking to the scene — apparently in a latent effort to protect it young. But by then the ruckus was over, and the smaller downies had already taken refuge in thick vegetation.