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The Common coot (Fulica atra) is considered a game bird in Britain, with the same hunting season as the moorhen, though I would certainly never be tempted to kill one. Maybe it’s something to do with birds and water, but these are very entertaining to watch. The bird’s captivating silliness is probably where the idiom ‘silly coot’, used to describe a foolish person, originated. And the coot’s white head shield is the source of another common expression ‘to be as bald as a coot’, though bald here does not, in fact, mean hairless; an alternate definition of bald is ‘marked or streaked with white’.

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Although I’m a New Zealander, the coot is very familiar to me as it was introduced to New Zealand in 1958 and, like most immigrants, has made itself right at home. I am constantly fascinated by its bizarre lobed feet, a cross between the long toes of wading birds and the webbed feet of swimming birds like ducks. Coots are mostly vegetarians, though they do also consume snails and insect larvae, and will readily join the line up at the local lake when humans are dishing out food to the ducks, geese and swans.

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