All About Birds
I love the Serpentine marsh at dusk, when the birds come in to land. Geese, ducks, herons, and coots.
"Drunk as a coot," Mom used to say, twitching the curtain to watch Dad get out of a cab on his return from an evening at the Legion. I didn't know what a coot was -- some kind of boozing man, obviously, was my natural conclusion at the time.
Many years passed before I discovered that a coot was a bird resembling a black duck. But why was this bird's name used as a term of censure against drunkenness, I wondered. Why not drunk as a duck, or a goose? Seeing coots in the Serpentine Fen, I recalled all this and decided to find out.
According to the democratic underground, the expression relates back to a drunk man and not a duck. Cooter Brown, nicknamed Coot, stayed drunk for the duration of the American Civil War. Since he had relatives in both camps, he remained permanently inebriated to avoid giving his fighting loyalty to one side or the other.
This makes a certain kind of sense. It also explains why all the coots I've seen, including the one in the picture, have been stone cold sober.