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It's a Duck, It's a Chicken, It's the American Coot!

Updated on October 10, 2012
American Coot
American Coot | Source

If It Isn't a Duck, Then What Is It?

This is a close relative of the gallinules and moorhens, who lives in open water and is often mistaken for a duck. It jerks its small head back and forth like a chicken when swimming or walking and usually travels and feeds in flocks. It is fairly common, as well as widely distributed across North America, who is easily distinguished by its slate gray plumage. It is blacker on the head and around the neck, it has a white bill, red eyes, and a reddish-brown frontal shield. As a matter-of-fact, this is the only bird in the U.S. that has a white bill and a frontal shield. There is also a small, dark ring near the tip of the bill. You know that you’re close when you can see those eyes!

American Coot
American Coot | Source

On the Menu...

This bird feeds by immersing its head and neck in shallow water, with its body and head tipped upward. It also dives for vegetation, which makes up most of its diet, and also eats insects, small fish, snails, mollusks, worms, and amphibians. Interestingly, it runs with its wings flapping to gain flight directly from the water. It can also be aggressive toward other waterfowl, and will chase them away from its vicinity.

The White Rump Patch
The White Rump Patch | Source

Courtship and Migration

To display for the female, the male extends his head and neck, and swims slowly toward his chosen. When he nears her, he’ll slowly turn around, and with his wings and tail elevated, swims slowly away. By so doing, he presents his very white rump patch. If she accepts him, she will follow. They then engage in mutual preening, using their bills to caress one another’s feathers.

These migratory birds mass in large flocks on their wintering grounds, and also travel in large flocks. Their northward migration usually gets underway at the start of March, and they are on their breeding grounds by the end of April. By the time that they reach their breeding grounds, they are often paired.

Nest Information

Nests are made from dead stems, lined with finer materials, but no down is within it. It is a floating construction and is anchored to area vegetation, built by both in the pair.

American Coots Feeding
American Coots Feeding | Source

Young Coots

The young hatch at different times, as the eggs are incubated before they are all laid. The other parent cares for the young that have already hatched while the others are incubated. The young leave the nest as they hatch, and the male broods them when they need warmth and shepherding about. They will breed once or twice a year.

The young coot is also black, but the head, throat and bill range from light orange to bright red.

Coots Feeding
Coots Feeding | Source

Habits

These birds are very social and mix well with ducks. They are usually skittering about on the water, diving for food, or just swimming around. They are strong swimmers and expert divers, generally diving with a loud plop. Coots are not at all wary, as they are fairly reluctant to fly.

American Coot
American Coot | Source

Natural Enemies

Coots have the same enemies as ducks, as they live in the same habitat and under the same conditions. Hawks and eagles will swoop down after them, forcing them to dive. When it surfaces, it will be forced under water again. This continues until it is exhausted when it comes up for air, then it is snatched from the water, and made off with.

Raccoons, otter, owls, and turtles are also other natural enemies. Since they are such easy pickings, it is fortunate that they are fairly common birds.

American Coots
American Coots | Source

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    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Coots, like any other bird, will be territorial during breeding season. Are they still misbehaving, even out of breeding season(spring)?

    • sharonsianna profile image

      sharonsianna 4 years ago

      i have a few coots at my lake and they are (mean) / territorial!

      why is this?

      i ask this because i only wander around my lake aimlessly and they tend to berate me for no apparent reason!

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, gamy. They have been MIA since late June, but they will return.

    • gamby79 profile image

      gamby79 4 years ago

      Yet ANOTHER hub of yours that I learned something new! Thanks avainnovice. I have seen coots at Boomer but wasn't quite sure what to call them other than...'some kind of duck'. Thanks for enlightening me! Rated all up!

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, unknown spy! They are pretty cute little birds. Never heard a sound out of any of them.

    • unknown spy profile image

      IAmForbidden 4 years ago from Neverland - where children never grow up.

      great hub Deb! though i nver seen a coot before.hehehe

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, grandmapearl. I like looking for interesting birds.

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      They look like a mix of several other birds, don't they Mhatter?

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      hanks, Nell. They are pretty cute, here, too. They don't say anything, how about your's?

    • grandmapearl profile image

      Connie Smith 4 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

      I will definitely be on the lookout for this bird with such a distinctive beak! Your pictures really help us to see what this bird looks like from all angles and at different ages. Beautiful and great info as always!

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 4 years ago from San Francisco

      Even if I had a camera... I have never seen something "so unreal".

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

      Hi, we have these over here in England too, I often watch them down the river, funny but lovely little things, great hub as always, nell

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, Joyce, I'm glad that you're enjoying this material.

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Any time, summerberrie. Sometimes, it is hard to tell what some of these birds are, so I understand. The collective tern is "waterforl," if that will help you in discussions with your son.

    • writer20 profile image

      Joyce Haragsim 4 years ago from Southern Nevada

      You never cease to amaze me with you're great hubs like this one.

      Voted up and very interesting, Joyce.

    • profile image

      summerberrie 4 years ago

      It really annoys my son when I say, "look at the duck" when it is a coot. I'm learning. Thanks for sharing such wonderful information and picures.

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      No, Mhatter, I didn't know that you saw that. They are pretty easy to capture. Did you get a pic, by any chance?

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 4 years ago from San Francisco

      Did I share with you, I saw a hawk kill a coot at a knoll not far from my house? I said to myself, "Now there's something you don't see everyday."

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, Jackie. Yes, they are interesting, but they disappeared in June(for a while). Such is the life of a migratory bird. Keep an eye out in your area, as I believe migration has begun to some degree.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 4 years ago from The Beautiful South

      I have never seen one of these and sure hope to! Cool coots! Voting up.

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