How Coot!

While The RARE Group’s primary focus is working with raptors, we do occasionally receive a non-raptor visitor in need of care, rehabilitation, and healing.  Case in point: the American Coot. coot 3

This American Coot arrived at the RARE clinic in mid-April due to a leg injury. RARE volunteers provided the Coot with a feast of natural grasses, plant material, and meal worms - very similar to its diet in the wild. Each day the Coot was treated to swim time in its own “pool” within the safe confines of the clinic. This allowed for exercise, strength building, comfort (floating in water took weight off the Coot’s injured leg), and gave the Coot the opportunity to engage in its natural behavior while still receiving the care it needed.

coot 2

American Coots are migratory waterbirds whose above-water appearance may lead some to believe that they are just an odd (looking) duck: their dark gray-to-black plumage, white sloping forehead and bill, and bright red eyes are indeed an unusual sight. Below the surface, however, things get even more unusual: unlike other waterbirds such as ducks and geese, coots do not have webbed feet. Instead, each one of the Coot’s long toes has broad lobes of skin that help it kick through the water. The broad lobes fold back each time the bird lifts its foot, so it doesn’t impede walking on dry land, though it supports the bird’s weight on wet or muddy ground.

coot 1

In the wild, Coots inhabit a variety of freshwater wetlands from prairie ponds to inlets, marshes, reservoirs, along the edges of lakes, and even in roadside ditches. They prefer heavy stands of emergent aquatic vegetation along at least some portion of the shoreline. Nests are almost always built over water on floating platforms and almost always associated with dense stands of living or dead vegetation such as reeds, cattails, bulrushes, sedges, and grasses. As migratory visitors to the Midwest, Coots arrive in the spring and summer months to breed and nest, returning to the southeastern US in the winter. Some Coots also live year-round in the southern and western portions of the US as well as Mexico, Central America, Cuba, and the Caribbean.

coots wild

To learn more about the American Coot, check out the links below.  And as always, follow The RARE Group on Facebook and subscribe to the RARE blog for updates, events, and to learn more about raptor rehabilitation.

Audubon Society

Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds

Creance Flight

Recently a group of RARE field team members gathered for an exciting occasion: RARE's first creance flight of a juvenile red-tailed hawk.  Creance flying is a an alternative form of exercise used in raptor rehabilitation when a flight cage is not available and allows the bird to rebuild the muscle and strength required for its eventual release back into the wild.  This method of rehabilitation conditioning involves placing leather straps, or jesses, around the bird’s legs and then attaching the jesses to a long leash or tether.  The bird is then able to fly on its own while still in a controlled environment, enabling rehabbers to observe the bird in flight in order to assess its progress and ability. In the photo below, a RARE field team member demonstrates the proper way to fit the leather straps, or jesses, on the hawk's legs. Jesses are removable and are designed to comfortably fit each individual raptor species.  The tether can be up to 300 feet long - the one used by RARE on this occasion was 100 feet - and enables the rehabber to gently draw an in-flight bird back toward him- or herself should it come close to reaching the full length of the line.

A juvenile red-tailed hawk can be identified by its white chest, lack of red tail feathers, and yellow (as opposed to brown) eyes.  The adult characteristics of a red-tail begin to appear in the hawk's second year of life.

Wearing proper safety gear, RARE executive director Luke prepares for the hawk's first creance flight.

Following treatment and recovery at the RARE clinic for a couple of months, this hawk was ready for some fresh air, sunshine, and exercise.

The RARE field team gave the hawk plenty of time and space to get acclimated to wearing the jesses and creance.

And we have lift-off!  With a little help from Luke, the hawk took to flight.

Subscribe to the RARE blog or follow the RARE Facebook page for more updates on this hawk's progress and other wild adventures in raptor rehabilitation.

- DF