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mud hen / mudhen

A bluish-black wading bird (Fulica Americana), common in the United States. — Webster, 1882

A very funny hunting experience happened down at Silver Lake last Friday evening. John Bell and Geo. Burd had been out hunting chickens one afternoon and coming home they came around by Silver Lake, hoping perchance, to get a shot at a duck. They tied their team at the east end of a tree claim and after hunting around they found the little boat that the men use during the summer for excursions. George thought it would be a good idea to push the boat out in the lake a little way and they would have a better chance to get a duck. Mr. Bell was given the honor in the front end of the boat. They had gotten out in the middle of the lake where the mud and water is about three or four feet deep, and were just rounding a little bunch of rushes when Mr. Bell felt the boat give an awful lurch and rock from side to side nearly unseating him. This peculiar movement was followed by a tremendous splash and a shower of water. After Mr. Bell had gained his equilibrium he glanced behind him and saw to his utter astonishment his friend splashing around in the water and a wounded mud hen. His first thought was of lending a helping hand but when he saw George stand up in three feet of water his mind changed from the sublime to the ridiculous and he turned himself loose for a good laugh. It is well known that Mr. Burd is a man of very even temperament and he only uses harsh words in case of absolute necessity, and this gave him an opportunity to express himself to his heart’s content, which he straightway did. Mr. Bell was heard to remark that he had not laughed so much in nineteen years as he did on Friday. – De Smet News, November 1, 1901

One of the many types of birds Laura sees settling down to rest each evening on Silver Lake is the mud hen. Often mistaken for ducks, but having distinctive large non-webbed feet unlike a duck, the adult mud hen – or American coot – is a blue-black fresh water shore bird that builds its nest in the marshy vegetation at the edge of lakes or sloughs. They are found on the whole of North America and north to Alaska. Adults are uniformly colored dark blue gray to black with a black head and neck. Wing are short with white tips, and in the wintertime, the bird’s belly is whitish; the tail is short. The bill and forehead is milky white with a black tip, and eyes are bright crimson. Young birds are similarly colored but their lower body is more gray. Baby birds will have bristly red-orange head plumage. Average length of adult birds is about 14 inches.

Mud hens are migratory birds, heading south to the southern states and Mexico in September. Although young birds were historically said to be good eating, adult birds were not typically shot for food, although their awkward waddling gait along the shoreline and slowness in taking flight made them easy targets. The birds feed on grass seeds, leaves of aquatic plants, and small insects, gathering much of its food under water. Nests are built of coarse reeds and can contain as many as a dozen eggs in a single nest. — S.F. Baird, et. al., Water Birds of North America (Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1884), 392-397.


mud hen / mudhen (SSL 12)