American Coot

Common Name: American Coot.

Scientific Name: Fulica Americana.

What to look for?  Medium-sized (2/3rds size of a Mallard), all-black bird with a bright white bill. American Coots are plump waterbirds – not a duck! Adults are black or dark gray overall. They have a rounded head with red eyes and a red area on its forehead. American Coots have a sloping white bill tipped in a ring of black. On their dark, grayish-black body are short wings; and under their small tail are white patches. They have greenish-yellow legs, and large feet with lobed toes.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? Early Spring. You may find American Coots here in late March or early April. They can be seen on the surface of our ponds. And they may occasionally disappear below the surface as they dive for food.

How big are they? Small for a duck (although they are a bird). The American Coot averages approximately sixteen (16) inches in length. And their wingspan is approximately five (5) feet. American Coots weigh in at around twenty-three (23) ounces.

What are their flight patterns? With a plump body and short wings, an American Coot is not aerodynamically designed, making the take-off difficult. To become airborne, they typically need to beat their wings while running across the water for several yards. However, once aloft, an American Coot can fly as well as any other species of bird.

How else do they behave? An American Coot can be easily identified by its strange behavior of bobbing its head back and forth while swimming. In the water, they look like small ducks as they swim, but on land, they do not waddle but have a more chicken-like walk. They are an awkward and clumsy flier, requiring long running takeoffs to get airborne. American Coots are social birds that lives in flocks. Males show an aggressive behavior as they defend nesting territories.

What’s for dinner? American Coots eat mostly plant material such as stems, leaves, and seeds of pondweeds, sedges, and grasses as well as algae. They will also eat insects, tadpoles, fish, worms, snails, crayfish, prawns, and eggs of other birds. American Coots use a variety of foraging methods, including dabbling at the surface of water, diving underwater, and grazing on land.

Where do they take up residence? American Coots are native to North America. The American Coot inhabits a wide variety of freshwater wetlands from prairie potholes to swamps and marshes to suburban park and sewage ponds.

When and where do they breed and nest? American Coots usually breed between May and June in the Midwestern and Western United States as well as southern Canada. For breeding season, they require fairly shallow fresh water with much marsh vegetation. The nest is generally a floating structure of dead cattails, bulrushes, and sedges that is lined with finer materials. It is anchored to upright stalks and often includes a ramp leading straight into the water, providing young coots with an easy way in and out of the nest. The female lays a single clutch of around eight (8) eggs. These eggs incubate over the next 24 days. Hatchlings leave the nest within 6 hours of hatching. They have first flight within four (4) weeks. By the time the coot is two months old, it is completely independent.

Where do they migrate? American Coots are medium-distance migrants. During the summer, American Coots are found in freshwater lakes and ponds of the northern United States and southern Canada. During winter, they head to the southern portion of the United States and are found from California to Florida. In the West and Florida, they may be year-round residents. They will winter as far north as open water permits. And most of their migration is done at night.

What is their conservation status? There is no concern. American Coot are common and widespread. Their populations appear to be stable, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Their population in North America is estimated at 3 million. They are not on watch list.

Do they make any interesting sounds? American Coot are a highly vocal species that calls with a variety of grunting, croaking, and squawking noises. Here is a link to the sounds of the American Coot.

Interesting Facts About the American Coot:

  • They are nicknamed "marsh hen" or "mud hen" beca use of the way their heads bob when they walk or swim.

  • A group of coots has many collective nouns, including a "codgery", "commotion", "fleet", "shoal", and "swarm" of coots.

  • Coots are kleptoparasitic, which means that when they do not feel like hunting for their own food, they will steal their meal from other birds.

  • The oldest known American Coot lived to be at least 22 years old. The average lifespan is nine (9) years.

For more information on American Coots and sources of information used in this blog (these are the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit All About Birds, Audubon Society, University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web, and the Nature Mapping Foundation.  And the Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides a wonderful source of information for anyone interested in learning more about birds

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, plants and insects. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.

 

Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!