American Coot

Most of us have seen a Coot at our city parks or around lakes, ponds and golf courses.  They are chicken sized, slate colored birds with a white beak, funny feet and a loud obnoxious voice.  Most of us will also ignore them and consider them pests, which has given rise to sayings like “You old Coot.”, and “Crazy as a Coot.”  American Coot|Los Angeles Arboretum|Arcadia, CA They’re pretty crazy alright but are also very interesting birds to watch.  Try sitting for awhile and take in the show!

Description

The American Coot has a black head and a slate colored body with red eyes.  It has a large white bill with a black tip and a red frontal shield which goes up its forehead. The bill shaped more like a chicken’s bill rather than a flat bill like a duck.  It also has a white pattern on its tail which can be flared out when the bird is interacting with another.  Its legs and feet are greenish colored and it has lobed toes which aid in paddling and walking on land. The sexes are similar. Immature Coots are like their parents but are paler and have dusty colored bills.  Chicks are covered in black down and have blue eyes and black legs.  They have orange feathers on their heads and down the neck.

Range and Habitat

Coots are found in fresh and saltwater lakes and marshes in primarily in Northwest and Central North America although they are found from the Pacific to the Atlantic and from Canada to Equator.  They migrate in flocks and will often winter in flocks on ice free fresh water and saltwater inlets.

Behavior

Probably the first thing you will notice about a Coot is its loud voice.  It has a variety of loud and harsh cackles, grunts, and croaks. The most common cry is a loud “kuk, kuk, kuk”. The Coot is social and lives in flocks.  You might see it in large rafts during the winter. The Coot’s head bobs like a chicken while swimming and walking and helps propel it through the water.  This bird moves in the water like a duck.  It can swim and dive up to 20′ and will feed by both dipping and diving. It feeds on algae, seeds, aquatic roots, snails, insects and small fish. It also will steal eggs from other birds.  You might also see the Coot on mud flats and grazing on lawns.  Because it is a heavy bird, it has to run across the water to take off, but has a fast wing beat in flight. It will display its white tail feathers when distressed and to give an alarm signal. It fights by grabbing its opponent with a foot and slaps the opponent with the other foot and bill

Breeding and Nesting

During breeding (May & June), the Coots display by chirping and splashing in the water.  The male very aggressively defends his territory. Both parents will build the nest. The female Coot lays 8-10 pinkish eggs spotted with brown in a nest made of reeds close to the water or anchored on the water by vegetation.  Both parents incubate the eggs.  The chicks are able to swim soon after they hatch and will follow the parents to be fed and be cared for.  The young are fully independent at 2 months.

American Coot Photo Gallery