Critter Corner - American Coot
(Fulica americana)

DID YOU KNOW:

The American Coot is a duck-like swimmer, but it looks very different from a duck.  It has a smaller head, a white, cone-shaped bill and a forehead shield.  The coot swims with its head bobbing up and down.  It makes a great splash and splatter when it enters or leaves the water.

EATING HABITS:

Coots are omnivores, which means they eat plants and animals.  In winter they eat mainly aquatic plants and seeds; in summer they add insects to the menu.  They also eat frogs, snails, fish and young ducklings.  The coot usually dives underwater for food but also feeds on land.

THE YOUNG:

A coot mm lays eight to 12 eggs in he spring.  Both mom and dad incubate the eggs and help care for the babies when they hatch.  Mom and dad bring insects to the downy chicks for he first few days and then the chicks follow their parents around as they continue to feed the babies for the first month.  After that, hey can find food on their own but still hang out with their parents a few more weeks.

HABITAT (HOME):

Coots are spring and summer residents of our area and then they migrate south for the winter.  Coots depend on marshes, ponds and lakes where they can find food.  They build their nests on grasses, reeds or branches hanging over water.

DEFENSIVE HABITS:

Coots are small, aggressive birds.  They are even food thieves.  After diving for food, the coot returns to he surface to eat its catch.  Sometimes, before it gets a chance to swallow, another coot might steal the food right from its bill.  This food stealing behavior is very common in large groups.  Coots use their feet as weapons when fighting for food and territory.

UNUSUAL FACTS:

  • The coot's toes have broad pads, or lobes that help it swim as easily as a duck.  On land, the pads keep the coot from sinking in the mud.

  • A coot has to run across the water for some distance before it can get airborne!

 To learn more about American Coots

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(Photo credits: Coot walking from US Fish and Wildlife Service; Coot swimming from National Parks Service; Coot babies in nest from Animal Diversity Web; Coot flock from Fermi National Lab)