Distribution & Habitat
About 10 species of coots are found worldwide, with the most varieties in South America. They often quarrel among themselves as they swim about on open water or walk on the shore, nodding their heads as they go.
Coots are tough, adaptable waterbirds. Although they are related to the secretive rails, they swim in the open like ducks and walk about onshore, making themselves at home on golf courses and city park ponds. Usually, in flocks, they are aggressive and noisy, making a wide variety of calls by day and night.
They have strong legs and big feet with lobed toes, and coots fighting over territorial boundaries will rear up and attack each other with their feet. When taking flight, they must patter across the water, flapping their wings furiously, before becoming airborne.
Coots are omnivorous. They eat mostly plant material, including stems, leaves, and seeds of pondweeds, sedges, grasses, and many others; also insects, tadpoles, fish, worms, snails, crayfish, prawns, eggs of other birds. Also steals food from other ducks.
The American Coot is very aggressive in defending its nesting territory. In courtship, the male may pursue female across the water. Nest (built by both sexes) is a floating platform of dead cattails, bulrushes, sedges, lined with finer material, anchored to standing plants. Several similar platforms may be built, only one or two used for nesting.
Length: 12.8 – 17.2 inches
Habitat: Ponds, lakes, marshes; in winter, also fields, park ponds, salt bays. For breeding season requires shallow fresh water with much marsh vegetation.
Range: Breeds south through most of Mexico and locally in Central America, Colombia, and West Indies. Northern populations are migratory, while the others are resident. Occurs in brackish estuaries in winter.
Conservation Status: The American Coot is considered a game bird in many states. It is still abundant in many areas but has decreased in recent decades in some areas, especially in the east.