War on the Water

Several weeks ago, I spent a sunny afternoon in Hyde Park photographing a family of Egyptian geese. I spent a lot of time with a similarly large brood last summer, learning that the best photo opps occurred when the fuzzy goslings leapt in or out of the Round Pond near Kensington Palace. I am particularly fond of this image and the tenacity it underscores. Incidentally, I get out of swimming pools with slightly less grace than these clumsy babies.

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I was lying on the busy pedestrian pathway encircling the Round Pond, my clothes undoubtedly covered in bird poo, when I noticed something far more interesting than baby geese munching on grass.

In the middle of the pond, a skirmish had broken out between two Eurasian coots. Coots, you should know, are incredibly territorial when breeding. More importantly—if less relevant— the Collins BTO Guide to British Birds calls Eurasian coots “dumpy waterbirds,” which feels catty to me. Also, can dumpy birds fight like this?

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I’ve seen several fights in the past— in case you haven’t noticed from my Instagram feed, I practically live in Hyde Park— but I’d never seen anything as dramatic as this battle of birds. At first, there were two. Then a third coot turned up and observed for a while. I wondered if she was the prize over which the other two dueled, but since coots are sexually monomorphic (a fancy way of saying males and females look alike), I couldn’t say. Regardless, it proved irrelevant, for number three soon joined the skirmish.

Turns out, my favorite family of Egyptian geese also likes to be entertained. They’re the soft blobs of white and brown in the background.

Turns out, my favorite family of Egyptian geese also likes to be entertained. They’re the soft blobs of white and brown in the background.

At this point, I was as excited as I’ve ever been before, and I say that with minimal sarcasm. After taking approximately 11,000 photos, I put my camera down and looked around to see if the other humans in Hyde Park were equally transfixed by the Round Pond’s crazy coots. Unfortunately, they were all too busy walking into one another while reading things on their phones to notice the spectacle of nature unfolding before their very eyes/phones.

And then a fourth coot appeared, leaping into the action with devilish speed. I tried to take photos of the full scene but just missed it. I did, however, snap this strangely serene photo of the four coots hanging out together following their fight.

With their feathers upright, I suspect they’re contemplating round 2, 3 or 4. I didn’t stay to find out: I had goslings to photograph, remember?

With their feathers upright, I suspect they’re contemplating round 2, 3 or 4. I didn’t stay to find out: I had goslings to photograph, remember?

Millie Kerr