Sunday, January 27, 2008

Only in SCV: Interview with a Coot

The American Coot/Bridgeport controversy shows that most of Santa Clarita is profoundly disconnected from the environment. This disconnect takes one of two forms.

In the first case, we have well-intentioned romanticizing of the plight of the coot. They are seen as beautiful, peaceful birds that escape Alaska’s brutal winters by migrating to balmy California. Once here, they’re slaughtered by the very people who laid out a welcome mat of lake and lawn. People with this view tend to overlook the facts that coots are very common, loud, and poop rather a lot.

Then we have people like Christine Korenthal and Bridgeport homeowners who adopt an even more na├»ve view. Indeed, they believe that they get to have nature act according to their own, personal terms! Coots are fine, they say, so long as the lawn they poop in isn’t mine and the grass they eat isn’t on my private property. Explained C. Korenthal in Friday's paper[1], “I think that conservation is important and that animals deserve the right to live in relative peace in their own territory.” Clearly, Christine, the problem is one of poor communication. You need to work with the animals to make sure they know which bits of land are “their own territory” and which bits are yours. Until we can better bridge the communication divide, I'm afraid we're going to to see animals blatantly disregard private property rights more and more.

So what’s the solution? Homeowners should deal with the unpleasant American Coots. They’re crapping on your lawn, and you’re figuratively crapping on theirs with car exhaust, lawn runoff, etc. Let’s both get over it.

Well that’s all I have to say about the issue, but an American Coot named Coco wanted to set a few things straight as well.

Interview with Coco the Coot

Coco, an American Coot. Photo taken over lunch interview; location to remain undisclosed at request of restaurant owner who feared LA Co. Health Dept. officials might frown upon allowing live waterfowl on the premises.

Hello Coco. Tell me a little about yourself.

Sure. I’m a 3-year old American Coot. I’m a mother of 24, but six of my kids were eaten by cats that Bridgeport homeowners let run around the neighborhood. When not procreating, I like eating grass, I love swimming, and I typically shit on the lawns of people whose kids chase me around.

Did you migrate here from Alaska?

Absolutely not, despite the fact that reporter Katherine Geyer and others have repeatedly stated that us coots migrate to and from Alaska[2]. It takes about 15 seconds online to find out that there is just one, tiny isolated group of coots that live in extreme eastern Alaska[3]. Hundreds of thousands of us live and breed in California yearround. I myself grew up in the Central Valley.

How do you feel about the people who want to kill you?

I don’t really get it. No one sits on the grass whether I crap on it or not. I help keep the algae down in the lake, and kids love watching me swim and walk and fly.

How will you respond if homeowners lay out corn laced with the tranquilizer alpha-chlorolose?

I have very little self-control, so I’ll probably eat it. Then I’ll be euthanized, placed in a black trash bag, carted off to a landfill, and slowly decompose.

Is there anything else you’d like to say, Coco?

Are you going to eat that? [motions towards the remainder of my salad; I acquiesce]

[1]"Who Gives a Coot?", commentary in The Signal's Friday, January 25, 2008 paper.
[2]For example, from Katherine Geyer's January 26, 2008 The Signal article "Coot Flap Flocks to Council":
"U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service records show the Bridgeport Community Association applied for permits in 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004 to be able to kill the coots that migrate each year from Alaska and Canada." Alaska? Probably not. Canada? Maybe Manitoba. California? More likely yet.
[3] Brisbin, Jr., I. Lehr, and Thomas B. Mowbray. 2002. American Coot (Fulica americana), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online:
Here’s a range map for the American coot from the Cornell University's Birds of North America project. Note the one little dot in Alaska.


Anonymous said...

My nickname is Coot !

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed your interview. We have the same situation here with Canada Geese. Nice blog!

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