AMERICAN COOT – (Fulica americana)
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. The American coot is around 40 cm (16 in.) long, and is almost all black except for the bill, which is white. Coots also have a frontal shield, and for this species it is white. The tail is very short. Sexes are similar, but the female is slightly smaller.
As the name implies the coot is a wetland bird, and spends a good time of its life on the water, including building its nest on a floating platform. There is known intraspecies brood parasitism among females. Coots feed on vegetation and insects that they dive for in shallow water.
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 though 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. 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.
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. That coot is endemic to Hawaii, and is listed as endangered due to habitat loss and predation by animals such as the introduced mongoose, which eat their eggs and chicks.
Another very similar-looking species is the Eurasian coot (Fulica atra) (photos below). Can you tell the differences?
The American coot breeds on PEI, but its sightings so far are considered as rare, uncommon or accidental, depending on the years and the seasons.
This Hawaiian coot was observed at an accessible spot along a road and a bridge in Kailua, Oahu.