Saturday, December 18, 2010


Cooter is back. If you don't know who Cooter is, Cooter is a Great Black-backed Gull who spends the winter with us here at Cape May Point and he's a gull who has developed a particularly nasty habit. He eats coots for breakfast! Well, pretty much any time of day really, but early morning raids do seem to be his stock in trade. OK, we don't know whether Cooter is a he or a she really, but somehow he seems too brutal to be a lady...

The first sign that Cooter is around is usually when you notice all the ducks panicking on Lighthouse or Bunker Pond in Cape May Point State Park. Here, Cooter drops in on the only American Coot that had ventured into the middle of the pond. The disappearing coot is responsible for the splash on the right as it dives for cover.

Cooter waited patiently an inordinate amount of time; the sort of waiting that only predators, and bad guys in movies, seem capable of, but the coot inevitably had to come up for air. I think that coots are pretty much doomed here as the ponds are very shallow and full of copious amounts of water weed. Thus coots have no escape; they're not agile enough in flight to escape and they can't escape under water because the water weed impedes their movement too much.

The coot is undoubtedly injured but begins to fight back. Gull fans will be pleased to see Cooters moult timing here - with P2 missing and P1 still old (the rest of you have nodded off so I'll leave it at that for now!)

In classic defensive pose, American Coots roll over to use their feet - with sharp, raking claws - to fight with each other. However, I think this tactic just doesn't work against something as big as a Great Black-backed Gull....

....because the gull has a much longer reach and can now get to the coot's exposed under belly.

The poor coot is mortally wounded with nowhere to go....

....and Cooter deals the fatal blow. It's not a nice thing to watch a poor little coot be dispatched in this way, but it is, of course, the way of the world as the web of life goes on all around us.