Nature on our doorsteps - Bald as a Coot

By Rosaleen Dwyer

Rosaleen Dwyer is the County Heritage Officer at South Dublin County Council – every week she gives us an insight into the natural heritage around us and the beautiful biodiversity of the plants and creatures

In summertime, tall elegant reeds grace the edges of the ponds and lakes in our public parks, providing a safe place where water birds can feed, hide away, and build their nests.

When these reeds die back in winter we can get a better view of these water birds, one of which is the Common Coot. 

The white forehead of the Coot is very distinctive compressor

The white forehead of the Coot is very distinctive

Coots are black-coloured birds with a distinctive white bill and forehead. 

While they look a little like a duck, they are in fact a member of the Water Rail group of wetland birds.

Instead of the short legs and webbed feet of a duck, the Coot has long legs to help it walk through swampy reedbeds. Also, because webbed feet would not be practical for walking through rough, spiky reeds, a Coot’s toes are separate. 

Big nodes or lumps occur along the toes, and these help the bird to swim. 

The term ‘Bald as a Coot’ is generally interpreted today to refer to someone who is completely bald. 

In winter lakeside reeds add a splash of gold to Tymon Park. compressor

In winter, lakeside reeds add a splash of gold to Tymon Park

Originally however, the term described someone who was bald only from the forehead to the top of the head, matching the white patch on the Coot’s head.

This colour pattern is also reflected in the bird’s Irish name, ‘Cearc cheannann’, where ‘cearc’ is a hen and ‘cheannann’ refers to the bird being white-faced.

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