American Coot Parents Playing Favorites

[Photographed from a respectful distance, w/tele lens]

I didn’t realize when I photographed this American Coot parent and baby, that coot parents will sometimes pick favorites for a while, to help the smaller chicks survive. The family I observed this day, though, seemed to show equal food love to both kids.

I came upon them unexpectedly while sitting on a lake dock. The the little ones ducked out of cover as a parent arrived with food. They didn’t seem to mind me sitting there, so I was able to snap some shots of this family interaction. I’m not sure what food was delivered (photo below). This seemed to be the consistent snack brought to the chicks.

Excerpted from Discover, citing a UC Santa Cruz study:

“Each coot parent picked one preferred chick out of those who’d hatched last, and gave that chick the most food. Heightening the drama, moms and dads each chose a different favorite.

To discourage bigger siblings from asking for so much food, the parents spent more time ‘tousling’ these birds. In humans this means ‘affectionately messing up someone’s hair,’ but in birds it means ‘grabbing your baby by the head and shaking it.’ As you might imagine, it’s pretty convincing. The beefy siblings backed off.

Once parents switched to spoiling the runts and beating up the bigger kids, late hatchers became just as likely to survive as their siblings. The youngest chicks even grew slightly larger than their older brothers and sisters.”

American Coot Parent Feeding Chick 2
American Coot Parent Feeding Chick
American Coot Parent Feeding Chick 3
American Coot Chick 1
American Coot Chick in Water