American Coot

Photo: Andre Chan

Common Name

American Coot

Species Names

Fulica americana

Appearance

34-43 cm length | 23-28 cm wingspan | 427-848 gm weight

A medium-sized aquatic bird that looks somewhere in between a duck and a chicken. They have a small head with a hard plate extending from the base of the beak over the forehead called a facial shield. They also have a short, thick bill, short, rounded wings, a short tail and broad, lobed toes.

Predominately black with a white facial shield, white bill, reddish eyes, yellow legs and greenish-blue feet. Juveniles are grey with olive-brown at the top of their head.

Habitat/Behaviour

Omnivore | Wetland, ponds | Lives up to 22 years | Migratory

Coots live near water, typically inhabiting reed-lined wetlands, ponds or larger bodies of water. They prefer freshwater but may be observed around oceans during the winter.

The American Coot is omnivorous. It feeds on water where it dives for food, and forages on land. They eat a diet consisting mostly of algae but will also eat other aquatic plants, terrestrial plants, aquatic insects, molluscs and vertebrates.

Courtship is a long process and involves intricate dances that include billing (rhythmically clashing bills), bowing and nibbling. Coots may build several nests before selecting the final one in which to lay their eggs. A group of coots is called a “covert” or “cover”.

Breeding

Monogamous for life | Floating nest | 8-12 whitish eggs with brown spots | 1-2 sets of young per year

Female coots show favouritism to their offspring, preferentially feeding chicks with brighter “chick ornaments”. In coots, chicks have bright orange feathers on their backs and throats, and those with the brightest and most elaborate ornamentation get fed the most.

The American Coot is a victim of “conspecific brood parasitism”: within the same species eggs are laid in the nests of other birds, causing them to be hatched and the young reared by the host parents. The American Coot is one of only 3 bird species to be able to effectively identify her chicks versus that of another coot. She will then abandon impostors in her nest.

Events

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