My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

American Coot, Fulica americana

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

American Coot, Fulica americana

The American Coot is a bird of the family Rallidae. Though commonly mistaken to be ducks, American Coots come from a distinct family. Unlike ducks, Coots have broad lobes of skin that fold back with each step in order to facilitate walking on dry land. They live near water, typically inhabiting wetlands and open water bodies in North America. Groups of these black-feathered, white-billed birds are called covers or rafts. The oldest known Coot lived to be 22 years old.

The American coot is a migratory bird that occupies most of North America. They live in the Southwestern United States, Mexico, and the pacific coast year round, and only occupy the northeastern regions during the summer breeding season. In the winter they can be found as far south as Panama.  They generally build floating nests and lay 8-12 eggs per clutch.  American coots eat primarily algae and other aquatic plants but they do eat animals (both vertebrates and invertebrates) when available.

Much research has been done on the breeding habits of American Coots. Studies have found that mothers will preferentially feed offspring with the brightest plume feathers, a characteristic known as chick ornaments. American coots are also susceptible to conspecific brood parasitism, and have evolved rules to identify which offspring are theirs and which are from parasitic females.

The American Coot is a highly gregarious species, particularly in the winter, when its flocks can number in the thousands.

The American Coot can dive for food but can also forage and scavenge on land. It is omnivorous, eating plant material, insects, fish, and other aquatic animals. Its principle source of food is aquatic vegetation, especially algae. During breeding season, Coots are more likely to eat aquatic insects and mollusks, which constitute the majority of a chick’s diet.

Coot mate pairings are monogamous throughout their life, given they have a suitable territory. A typical reproductive cycle involves multiple stages: pairing, nesting, copulation, egg deposition, incubation, and hatching. The American Coot typically has long courtship periods. This courtship period is characterized by billing, bowing, and nibbling. Males generally initiate billing, which is the touching of bills between individuals. As the pair bond becomes more evident, both males and females will initiate billing only with each other and not other males or females. After a pair bond is cemented, the mating pair looks for a territory to build a nest in. A pair bond becomes permanent when a nesting territory is secured.

On to my photos, and since coots have appeared many times in my blog in the past, and I’m sure will continue to show up here, I’m only going to post two recent photos for now.

American Coot

American Coot

American Coot

American Coot

American coot

American coot

American coot

American coot

American coot

American coot

American coot with snail stuck to its beak

American coot with snail stuck to its beak

This is number 56 in my photo life list, only 294 to go!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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12 responses

  1. Yep, we seem to have them year round. I see plenty of Coots. Nice to learn so much more about them. Thanks!

    March 15, 2013 at 3:25 am

    • Thank you, there are several good sources of information about coots online, they have been studied extensively.

      March 15, 2013 at 9:51 am

      • But I like the way you present the information best!

        March 15, 2013 at 2:08 pm

      • Thank you, that’s hard to argue with. 😉

        March 15, 2013 at 3:07 pm

      • And you would want to argue why? 😀

        March 15, 2013 at 3:12 pm

  2. This is another one I’ve never seen. When someone says “You old coot” now I’ll know what they’re talking about.

    March 15, 2013 at 6:09 am

    • I thought that coots were nearly universal and that everyone had seen them. They can be quite comical while nesting, especially in their vocalizations.

      March 15, 2013 at 9:52 am

  3. Awww..coots are cute!

    March 15, 2013 at 8:42 pm

    • Thanks, I need to get a shot of their legs and feet, their green legs are really cool.

      March 16, 2013 at 1:47 am

      • I would love to see that ! I think I saw their green legs once briefly but didn’t believe it.

        March 16, 2013 at 7:30 pm

      • I’m talking to my friend Jan, and trying to get her to do another post. She just posted a shot on FB of a coot holding up its foot to a duck as if to say “Don’t you wish you had cool feet like these”.

        March 16, 2013 at 7:56 pm

      • HAHAHA ! That is awesome!!

        March 16, 2013 at 8:01 pm