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Interesting facts about the American Coot
Tuesday, April 08, 2014 8:38 PM


By Mark Holtsberry

Education specialist Paulding SWCD

For my daily walkers and building renters, have you noticed some different bird and duck activitiy? The nature center has a pair of American coots temporarily living here. Although commonly mistaken to be ducks, the American coot belongs to a distinct order. Unlike the webbed feet of ducks, coots have broad lobed scales on their lower legs and toes that fold back with each step in order to facilitate walking on dry land.

Coots live near water, typically inhabiting wetlands and open water bodies in North America. The American coot is a plump, chicken-like bird with short wings, visible on the rare occasions they take flight. Their dark bodies and white faces are common sights in nearly any open water across the continent, and they often mix with ducks.

They are closer relatives of the gangly Sandhill than of mallards or teal. The American coot is listed as “least concern” under conservation ratings. Hunters generally avoid killing American coots because their meat is not as sought after as that of ducks.


You’ll find coots eating aquatic plants on almost any body of water. Coots generally build floating nests nd lay 8-12 eggs per clutch.

Females and males have similar appearances, but they can be distinguished during aggresive displays by the larger ruff (head plumage) on the male. The American coot measures 13-17 inches in length and 23-28 inches across the wings. Females are smaller in size, averaging 1-1/2 pounds, while males average 1-3/4 pounds. Juvenile birds have olive brown crowns and a gray body. They become adult color around four months of age.

The American coot can dive for food but can also forage and scavenge on land. It is carnivorous, eating plant material, arthropods, fish, and other aquatic animals. Its principal source of food is aquatic vegetation, especilly algee.

The American coot is a prolific builder and will create multiple structures during a single breeding season. It nests in well concealed locations in tall reeds. There are three general types of structures; display platforms, egg nests and broad nests.

So on your travels to the nature center, you can take a sneak peak at the centers newest arrival, the American coot.