Follow-up: Northern Harrier versus American Coot

Rick Harris <birdmanofthewoods@...>

A month or so ago I reported a Northern Harrier attacking
American Coots at Lake Cleone. At first I thought that the juvinile female hawk was possibly considering the coots as prey animals with persistent stoops, grasping motions with talons etc. Further observations show that this hawk just likes chasing coots around for the fun of it. Call it Harrier harassment for entertainment. Yesterday I saw an espeically sneaky attack that came from nowhere and even had me wanting to dive for cover. The coot's surprise was total and very satisfying in its explosiveness. Obviously this hawk has energy to expend in playful (malicious?) behavior which goes against the rule that birds don't expend precious energy on play.

American coots have never interested me much, but I came across a really charming website by an amateur ornithologist who studies them and may be the world's foremost authority on coots. Really fascinating. Check out "Coot News" a real hoot. Below is a quote.

American Coots make an excellent subject for the study of animal behavior. These birds have a large variety of calls and displays, and they are friendly and social with people. Their emotional nature makes it easy to understand what they are thinking, but you always run into trouble when you try to explain animal behavior in human terms. Don't be surprised if you find reputable research to be contrary to your own observations. The following quotation from The Outermost House, a classic of American nature writing by Henry Beston, expresses my frustration at trying to understand these friendly little birds. The more I learn about them, the more mysterious they become:

" We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the sense we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth."

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