I’ve always known Coots and indeed Moorhens were feisty little birds that could kill one of its own kind without a moments hesitation, most notably in the spring when the females will fight to the death over nesting rights, but what I hadn’t realised is just how bad they are at being parents. They often have a large clutch of 8 or so eggs and rear all of those chicks well for a day or two and then kill them off, until they only have one or two left. The mother in this photograph had three chicks a couple of hours previous to this photo and only one a couple of hours after.
After a little bit of reading so I don’t know how true this is, there are two schools of thought. As anybody that has watched Coots or Moorhens for more than half an hour, you may realise just how sexually active they are and the poor girl doesn’t stand a chance as the male mates with her every half an hour or so. What can happen then, is that the girl finds herself without a nest, but fully laid up with an egg which she must lay, so she nips into a neighbours nest and lays there. The Moorhens instinctively know this and rear all 8 or so chicks for a couple of days and then kill off any that don’t show the characteristics of the parents..
Another idea is that the Moorhens are very bad parents and are not good at feeding the chicks, I witnessed this but have not photographed it, a mother passed a twig to its young, which just held it in its beak not knowing what to do with the wooden twig, then the mother took it out again. Then as the babies become sick and weak the moorhens kill them with a single blow to the top of the head – which thankfully I have not witnessed.
Whatever happens they all have a big clutch and are within a few days are left with one or two chicks. They breed three times a year apparently, so if this natural selection didn’t occur we would be over run with them. There is an awful lot of wickedness and treachery that goes on in nature and what would appear to be your average duck pond.