Foam Lake Birding No. 112

FOAM LAKE BIRDING No. 112 The weather in southern California has been cool and quite wet, relatively speaking, but the California spring has arrived and everything is unusually green and lush. On recent bird walks I have spent more time looking at the plant life, especially the flowers, than the birds themselves. Overall, a very pleasant experience.

Adding to the experience, a Bewick’s Wren has decided to use a palm tree in the backyard as a stage from which to sing. Every morning at daybreak, not my favourite time of day, the wren bursts into song and continues for a half hour or more repeating the performance intermittently throughout the day. Sleeping with the windows open brings in the song loud and clear. I have heard Bewick’s Wrens before, but never in an urban setting. May the trend continue.

This week I want to cover a water bird that, if it occurred in Foam Lake, would easily be mistaken for a Coot. The Common Moorhen (formerly, the Common Gallinule) is found from southern Ontario south to Mexico east of the Mississippi River and from Oregon to Mexico along the west coast. Where waters freeze over the Moorhen migrates to open water, otherwise it is a permanent resident.

In size, looks and behavior it is very similar to the Coot, however, there are several small but quite obvious differences that even a beginning birder will be able to utilize. First, the Moorhen’s bill is red with a yellow tip; the Coot’s bill is all white. Second, the Coot’s body is all black; the Moorhen’s body has a heavy jagged white stripe running lengthwise along the wing line. Third, the Moorhen’s body is more slender and trimmer than the Coot’s which are rather chunky. Coots are birds that are often seen in the open whereas the Moorhen is somewhat more secretive spending more time in the rushes. The Moorhen make Coot-like sounds but is not nearly as vocal as the Coot.

Any birders visiting in the zones listed above should be looking for Moorhens mixed in with flocks of Coots.