At a Glance
Coots are tough, adaptable waterbirds. Although they are related to the secretive rails, they swim in the open like ducks and walk about on shore, making themselves at home on golf courses and city park ponds. Usually in flocks, they are aggressive and noisy, making a wide variety of calls by day or night. They have strong legs and big feet with lobed toes, and coots fighting over territorial boundaries will rear up and attack each other with their feet. Often seen walking on open ground near ponds. In taking flight they must patter across the water, flapping their wings furiously, before becoming airborne.
All bird guide text and rangemaps adapted from Lives of North American Birds by Kenn Kaufman© 1996, used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Chicken-like Marsh Birds, Rails, Gallinules, Coots
Coasts and Shorelines, Freshwater Wetlands, Lakes, Ponds, and Rivers, Saltwater Wetlands
Alaska and The North, California, Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Direct Flight, Rapid Wingbeats, Running
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
Some populations probably permanent resident, others migratory. May winter as far north as open water permits. Probably migrates mostly at night.
15" (38 cm). Charcoal gray with blacker head, thick white bill, with white and chestnut frontal shield up forehead. Nods its head as it swims; walks on land, showing big feet with lobes along toes. Immature paler gray; downy young has red head.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Mallard or Herring Gull
Black, Gray, Red, White, Yellow
Songs and Calls
A variety of clucks, cackles, grunts, and other harsh notes.
Chirp/Chip, Odd, Rattle, Scream, Whistle
Ponds, lakes, marshes; in winter, also fields, park ponds, salt bays. For breeding season requires fairly shallow fresh water with much marsh vegetation. At other seasons may be in almost any aquatic habitat, including ponds or reservoirs with bare shorelines, open ground near lakes, on salt marshes or protected coastal bays. Migrants sometimes are seen out at sea some distance from land.
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6-11, sometimes 2-12. Buff to grayish with brown spots. Nests with more than 12 eggs probably indicate laying by more than 1 female. Incubation by both sexes, 21-25 days. Young: can swim well soon after hatching; follow parents and are fed by them. At night, young are brooded on a nest-like platform built by male. Young probably able to fly at about 7-8 weeks after hatching. 1 or 2 broods per year.
can swim well soon after hatching; follow parents and are fed by them. At night, young are brooded on a nest-like platform built by male. Young probably able to fly at about 7-8 weeks after hatching. 1 or 2 broods per year.
Wide variety of foraging methods -- dabbles at surface of water, upends in shallows, dives underwater (propelled by feet), grazes on land. Also steals food from various ducks.
Omnivorous. Eats mostly plant material, including stems, leaves, and seeds of pondweeds, sedges, grasses, and many others, also much algae. Also eats insects, tadpoles, fish, worms, snails, crayfish, prawns, eggs of other birds.
Very aggressive in defense of nesting territory. In courtship, male may pursue female across water. Displays include swimming with head and neck lowered, wings arched, tail raised to show off white patches. Nest site is among tall marsh vegetation in shallow water. Nest (built by both sexes) is floating platform of dead cattails, bulrushes, sedges, lined with finer materials, anchored to standing plants. Several similar platforms may be built, only one or two used for nesting.
Still abundant in many areas, although has decreased in recent decades in some areas, especially in east.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the American Coot. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
Climate Threats Facing the American Coot
Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.