A Slew of Old Coots

American Coot fleeing from an attackAmerican Coot fleeing from an attack from another coot – Nikon D200, f7.1, 1/640, ISO 320, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

“Crazy Old Coot” is a term that many of us know and associate with a foolish person, especially an old man. I’ve seen a lot of coots in my life, both the feathered and non-feathered kinds. I’m not sure though why coots were associated with “foolish people” or “old men”.

Curious American CootCurious American Coot – Nikon D200, f9, 1/320, ISO 320, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 314mm, natural light

A test for being an old Coot might go something like this, you might be an old Coot if:

  • You sit on a rocking chair and can’t get it going.
  • Your knees buckle but your belt won’t.
  • Your back goes out more than you do.
  • Everything hurts, and what doesn’t hurt doesn’t work.
  • Your little black book contains only names ending in “M.D.”
  • You need glasses to find your glasses.

An American Coot with more than it can chewAn American Coot with more than it can chew – Nikon D300, f7.1, 1/1250, ISO 500, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

Now some old Coots do bite off more than they can chew but only an American Coot; with actual feathers and green clownish feet, are birds.

American Coot wing flapAmerican Coot wing flap – Nikon D200, f7.1, 1/640, ISO 320, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

There is also a phrase “bald as a coot” and I truly don’t know where that comes from because in all the time I have been photographing birds I have never once seen a bald coot.

American Coot in a defensive postureAmerican Coot in a defensive posture – Nikon D200, f7.1, 1/800, ISO 320, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 321mm, natural light

Frankly I love Coots. I love how they posture their plump bodies, squawk, puff up and get an attitude.

And yes, I am talking about the feathered kind.


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About Mia McPherson

I am a nature lover, wildlife watcher and a bird photographer. I first become serious about bird photography when I moved to Florida in 2004 and it wasn’t long before I was hooked (addicted is more like it). My move to the Salt Lake area of Utah was a great opportunity to continue observing their behavior and to pursue my passion for photographing birds.


  1. Jane Chesebrough

    I was watching these birds today. Love the one running. Excellent shots.

  2. humming bird lover


    Like you said that coot bite off more than he can chew! We old folks do it all the time it seems! Ha Ha
    Also the younger kids, too. Have a great day everyone!

  3. I just joined the coots club recently ;), so it was handy to have a checklist, which you provided. Great photos and story

  4. I would be very, very happy if I could age like these coots.

  5. Wonderful! ;)
    Thanks, Mia!

  6. Mia, I am shocked – shocked I tell you, to discover that I am apparently, by definition, an American Coot!

    Splendid series of photographs of my peers.

  7. Wow, that is quite a fish! I only ever seen them eating water weeds. Didn’t even realize they ate fish, never mind try to deal with something that huge!! Great shots!

    • Sarah, our harsh winters here seem to force coots to take food they normally would not eat, I am sure this fish died of natural causes or was killed by a predator. Coots might beat each other to death at times but I don’t think they could do that to a carp!

  8. I also love coots and this series. Ryan Ankeny’s blog a few years ago gave this explanation: “You old coot!” is an expression used to describe a cranky, surly, or pesky old person. Coots got implicated in this negative expression because they are just so danged common and numerous. Duck hunters consider them pests and a distraction because of this commonness. The sheer numbers of coots make it difficult locate and shoot more attractive and sought after ducks. Thus an “old coot” is also used to describe someone who is unwanted.

  9. Patty Chadwick

    I Love this series, but especially the first…with feet like that, of course they can walk on water! This picture proves it….

  10. Love your coot photos!

  11. Those feet are amazing structures. Good shot getting that running pose!

  12. The American Coots are doing there thing, brilliant photos.

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