American Coot

Fulica americana

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Photo of an American coot.
The American coot is ducklike, with a black head and neck and a pointed, ivory-white bill with a black ring near the end.
Noppadol Paothong
Family

Rallidae (rails, gallinules, coots) in the order Gruiformes

Description

A black or dark gray ducklike member of the rail family. Adults have a black head and neck, an ivory-white bill with a black ring near the end, and yellowish green legs with lobed feet. The outside of the under tail feathers is white. Song is a series of chickenlike notes and grating and crying sounds, louder and less nasal than common gallinule.

Similar species: The common gallinule (until recently considered the common moorhen) is a rare migrant and locally rare summer resident usually in big river floodplains. The adult resembles a coot but has a red, yellow-tipped bill and a red facial shield. The call is similar to the chickenlike clucking and whinnying of the American coot but higher and more nasal.

Size

Length: 16 inches (tip of bill to tip of tail).

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Photo of an American coot walking on ice, with lobed toes visible.
American Coot
The American coot has a chickenlike walk and toes with distinctly scalloped lobes.

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Photo of an American coot floating ducklike in water.
American Coot
Although it floats like a duck, the American coot is actually in the rail family. Note its short tail and wings and the pointed white bill.

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Photo of an American coot on its nest.
American Coot on Nest
American coots weave vegetation into shallow nests that float on water, attached to upright plant stalks.

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Photo of American coot nest, eggs, and young.
American Coot Nest, Eggs, and Young
An American coot clutch usually contains 8-12 eggs. The young are covered with down and are able to leave the nest within hours of hatching.

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Photo of an American coot nestling.
American Coot Nestling
Nestling American coots have blackish down feathers above and orange hairlike feathers around the neck.

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Photo of two American coots standing in shallow water.
American Coots
American coots are sometimes hunted for sport, but they are usually not considered good eating.
Habitat and conservation

Look for American coots on lakes, marshes, ponds, rivers, and swamps. Coots occur in wetlands, preferring marshes dominated by robust emergent vegetation interspersed with water. They require stable water levels during nesting season.

Foods

American coots are omnivorous, feeding on a large variety of aquatic and terrestrial vegetation and foraging for a variety of invertebrates and other small animals.

Coot Distribution Map
Distribution in Missouri

Statewide.

Status

Common migrant. Rare summer resident in marshes with nesting numbers fluctuating greatly between high- and low-precipitation years. Rare winter resident, with most birds reported in southern Missouri.

Life cycle

Coots weave vegetation into shallow nests that float on water, attached to upright plant stalks. A clutch usually contains 8-12 eggs, which are incubated for 23-25 days. The young are covered with down and are able to leave the nest within hours of hatching. American coots can live for more than 20 years.

Human connections

Coots are sometimes hunted for sport, but they are usually not considered good eating. In their wetland habitats, their bodies absorb environmental pollutants, and researchers use them as a way of gauging the amount and types of pollutants in the environment.

Ecosystem connections

Don’t underestimate the impact of grazers. Though they seem to only nibble, a group of them steadily nipping at plants can eat a staggering amount of vegetation over time.