The Daily Herald newspaper of Provo Utah printed an interesting blurb on 19 February 1954:
BOSCAWEN, N.H. (UP) — James Lee, chief state research biologist, asked to identify a bird shot by a hunter, replied: “It’s a coot, a distinct species It’s tame and, when cooked, tasted like an old rubber boot.”
Not being a bird-watcher, I became curious about exactly what a coot was. I’d heard my grandfather use the term in a different way, i.e.,”Oh, he is just an old coot, don’t pay attention to him!”
Are coots really a bird to ignore? Do they really taste that bad? The answer may be yes. On the message board, Ducks Unlimited, where seasoned hunters get to share tibdbits about cooking and recipies of their captured game, one states, “I firmly believe that coot is the closest thing to eating pure crap that’s been grilled over a burning tire and marinated in mildewy mud.That being said, I’m sure the dog will eat it. There’s a high limit for a reason, no one shoots em cuz no one wants em!”
The coot is often thought of as a ‘stupid bird,” and it does not particularly play nice in the marsh. It likes to steal from other birds. As if that is not bad enough, the US Santa Cruz Currents online calls Coots, “the Rodney Dangerfields of the bird world” but refers to a new study (2003) that states they are able to recognize and count their own eggs.
Also called a “mud hen,” the coot is often described as having a stupid facial expression and clowning behavior. “Crazy as a Coot,” or “Stupid as a Coot” used to be well used expressions. They just don’t get any respect. They are legally hunted in New Hampshire.
Coot(s) is also a rare surname in New Hampshire genealogical circles. It appears to be a name originating in the British Iles, and on occasion a derivative of the more popular Cote and Coats. Celia Thaxter, the Isles of Shoals poet, was familiar with them.
The black ducks gather, with plumes so rich,
And the coots in twinkling lines;
And the swift and slender water-witch,
Whose neck like silver shines;
–The Burgomaster Gull, by Celia Thaxter