AMERICAN COOT – (Fulica americana)
DESCRIPTION: The American Coot is a water bird that is almost all black. The bill is white, as well as the frontal shield. The eyes are red. The tail is very short. Sexes are similar, with the female slightly smaller. Juveniles are grey and lack the frontal shield. This coot is around 40 cm (16 inches) long.
NAME: The English name ‘Coot’ has an uncertain origin, which might be related to that of ‘scoter’ and to Dutch ‘koet’. The Latin genus name ‘Fulica’ derives from ‘fuligo’, which means ‘soot’, in reference to the bird’s color.
HABITAT: The American coot is a wetland bird, and spends a good time of its life on the water.
DIET: Coots feed on vegetation and insects that they dive for in shallow water.
NESTING: This species builds different nests with different purposes. Some are simply display platforms. Then there are the egg nests, and more than one are built. It is usually located on a floating platform. There is known intra-species brood parasitism among females. About six beige eggs are laid, which are incubated by both parents.
DISTRIBUTION: The breeding area of this species of coot includes most of the USA and southern Canada. It is a year-round resident on the west coast of the USA, in Mexico and the Caribbean.
ON PEI: The American coot breeds on Prince Edward Island, but its sightings so far are considered as rare, uncommon or accidental, depending on the years and the seasons.
CONSERVATION: The American coot is not a sought for game bird due to the less appealing taste of its meat, however they are still being shot for sport in some areas. The bird is not endangered, and because of its habitat and its stable numbers, it is used to study the impact of pollutants on wetlands.
NOTES: The American coot is part of the rail family, and is a type of ‘water hen’. Coots have strong legs and feet like hens, which enable them to run on land, and the toes are large enough to allow them some good swimming.
SIMILAR SPECIES: Hawaiian Coot, Eurasian Coot – The Hawaiian Coot (Fulica alai) is very similar (see photos and video below) to the American coot and is considered by some as a subspecies.
Another very similar-looking species is the Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra) (photos below). Can you tell the differences?
https://www.mba-aom.ca/jsp/toc.jsp (Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas)
https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/american-coot (Missouri Department of Conservation)
This Hawaiian coot was observed at an accessible spot along a road and a bridge in Kailua, Oahu.