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Bruce Lyon, The Breeding Biology of Coots
Reconsider the coot: the crazy reproductive antics of a common marsh denizen.
Coots are often overlooked by birders because they are so common. I have been studying the reproductive antics of American coots for the past two decades and have discovered that there is far more to this bird than meets the eye. In the talk I highlight some of our discoveries about the parental and reproductive strategies of coots, from both a natural history and scientific perspective. We all are familiar with the story of the cuckoo female that lays eggs in the nests of other species rather than raising chicks herself. Some coot females do this sort of thing, but they lay their eggs in the nests of other coot females. Why would they do this — why lay eggs elsewhere when you have your own nest? What do the birds that receive these unwanted foster eggs do? Coots are just as bizarre when it comes to raising their own kids, and there are many puzzling features of coot parental care behavior. For example, why do coots lay far more eggs than they can normally raise and why do they beat up their kids so much? And, finally, why are baby coots born with such a ridiculously fluorescent orange plumage? I will answer these questions in my talk. In addition, because our coot research was done in a wild part of central British Columbia, I will also briefly highlight a few of the special birds we encounter at our study site. Finally, the research program is expanding to ask similar questions in a mysterious coot in the High Andes of Argentina.
Bruce Lyon is a professor of Evolutionary Ecology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. His research focuses on the evolution of reproductive strategies and mating behavior of birds. His long-term research on the adaptive basis of brood parasitism in American coots has sought to understand why parasitism within species evolves and how the behavior influences other aspects of social behavior. Dr. Lyon has also investigated the evolution of ornamental plumage signals in a variety of species, including lark buntings, lazuli buntings and the evolution of ornamental offspring plumage in the newly hatched chicks of American coots. Most recently, he has conducted a decade-long investigation into the winter social lives of migrant golden-crowned sparrows that spent their winters on the Arboretum of the University of California, Santa Cruz. He has also begun work on the horned coot, a rare and giant South American coot species with boring drab chicks.