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American Coot

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American Coot – Swimming

American Coot – Swimming

William Klos

Often mistaken for a duck, the pond-swimming American coot is actually more closely related to rails and moorhens and is a popular resident on ponds and in similar marshy habitats throughout the United States.

Common Name:

American Coot, Mud Hen

Scientific Name:

Fulica americana

Appearance:

  • Bill: White, long pointed cone shape with black subterminal band
  • Size: 15 inches long with 26-inch wingspan, round body, short tail
  • Colors: Black, white, red, red-brown, gray-green, gray
  • Markings: Sexes are similar with grayish-black plumage overall with a black head and bold red eye. The white bill has a red-brown frontal shield on the forehead, and the long gray-green legs have long, lobed toes. White tips on the secondary flight feathers are most visible in flight.

Foods:

Insects, aquatic plants, amphibians, mollusks, fish

Habitat and Migration:

The American coot is a popular resident of the semi-open water in marshes, lakes and ponds, as well as in rivers with similar vegetation. These birds can be found year-round in the southern United States in Florida and from Louisiana, Arkansas and Missouri to California, spreading north to Washington and southern British Columbia and south throughout Mexico. In summer, American coots spread to southern Canada and as far east in the United States as the Great Lakes. In winter, these birds can also be found in the southeastern United States.

Vocalizations:

These are gregarious birds that have a variety of short, choppy calls, including clicking and a rattling "pop" call. A longer "waaaat" call with a rising pitch is also common. Females generally have a lower pitched voice than males.

Behavior:

American coots form flocks of all sizes from just a few birds to hundreds. They may feed at the surface or dabble to reach food beneath the water, and they can dive up to 25 feet deep to feed or escape threats. Flocks of coots may also walk on grass to feed on insects. While they may be shy or skittish during most of the year, these can be aggressive birds during the breeding season and males will use both their feet and bills to attack intruders, including other coots and waterfowl. When taking flight, they run along the surface of the water while flapping to gain enough speed for takeoff.

Reproduction:

These are monogamous birds that form pair bonds after males court females by chasing them across the water. Both parents will incubate a brood of 2-12 eggs for 22-24 days, and the precocial young will leave the nest within a few hours of hatching. The young birds are cared for by both parents for 50-55 days until their first flight. American coots can raise 1-2 broods per year.

Attracting American Coots:

Like most waterfowl, these are not backyard birds, but birders can easily find them in appropriate marshy habitat. Where American coots join mixed flocks in parks, they can become tame and enjoy being fed cracked corn and other appropriate foods for ducks and waterfowl.

Similar Birds:

  • Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra)
  • Caribbean Coot (Fulica caribaea)
  • Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)

Photo – American Coot – Swimming © William Klos
Photo – American Coot – Note Lobed Toes © Trisha Shears
Photo – American Coot – Profile © Larry Hennessy

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