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American Coot Life History


Lakes and PondsThe American Coot inhabits a wide variety of freshwater wetlands from prairie potholes to swamps and marshes to suburban park and sewage ponds to the edges of large lakes. Two features generally characterize all bodies of water where coots breed: (1) heavy stands of emergent aquatic vegetation along at least some portion of the shoreline and (2) at least some depth of standing water within those stands of vegetation. Seasonal wetlands used during years of high water, while drought years cause breeding to be limited to permanent wetlands.Back to top


PlantsEats mainly aquatic plants including algae, duckweed, eelgrass, wild rice, sedges, hydrilla, wild celery, waterlilies, cattails, water milfoil; when on land they also pick at terrestrial plants and sometimes eat grains or leaves of oak, elm, and cypress trees. They’re not exclusively vegetarian. You may also see them eating insects (beetles, dragonflies, and others), crustaceans, snails, and small vertebrates such as tadpoles and salamanders.Back to top


Nest Placement

FloatingNests are almost always built over water on floating platforms and almost always associated with dense stands of living or dead vegetation such as reeds, cattails, bulrushes, sedges, and grasses. Occasionally, the nest may be built on the edge of a stand of vegetation, where it is clearly visible.

Nest Description

The nest material is woven into a shallow basket with a hollowed interior lined with finer smooth material to hold the eggs. The entire nest is generally a floating structure anchored to upright stalks. Average diameter is 12 inches, with a 12 to 15-inch ramp and an egg cup of about 1 inch in depth and 6 inches in diameter.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:8-12 eggs
Number of Broods:1-2 broods
Egg Length:1.7-2.2 in (4.3-5.5 cm)
Egg Width:0.8-1.5 in (2-3.7 cm)
Incubation Period:23-25 days
Egg Description:Buff, pinkish buff or buff-gray speckled with dark brown, purplish brown, or black.
Condition at Hatching:Covered in down, alert, ready to leave the nest within 6 hours of hatching.
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Surface DiveA slow and meticulous forager, the American Coot plucks at plants while walking, swimming, dabbling with its head just underwater, or in full dives. In flight coots are clumsy and labored (though less so than Common Moorhens). To get airborne, coots typically have to beat their wings while running across the water for many yards. Coots sometimes gather in winter flocks of several thousand, sometimes mixing with other waterfowl. They sometimes steal food from others including ducks. Coots sometimes lay their eggs in the nests of other coots as well as Franklin’s Gulls, Cinnamon Teal, and Redheads. Back to top


Low Concern

American Coots are common and widespread, and populations appear to be stable, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 7.1 million and rates them 8 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of low conservation concern. Coot aren’t hunted nearly as much as ducks since many hunters consider them inedible. In 1999, the annual harvest of coots in the U.S. was about 720,000 but that number has fallen to about 182,000 in 2020. Coots live in wetlands and can accumulate toxins from pollution sources including agricultural runoff, industrial waste, and nuclear facilities. Because they are common and widespread, scientists sometimes monitor them as a way of monitoring these problems in the environment at large.

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Brisbin Jr., I. Lehr and Thomas B. Mowbray. (2002). American Coot (Fulica americana), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Dunne, P. (2006). Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, USA.

Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye (1988). The Birder's Handbook. A Field Guide to the Natural History of North American Birds, Including All Species That Regularly Breed North of Mexico. Simon and Schuster Inc., New York, NY, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

Partners in Flight. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.

Raftovich, R. V., K. K. Fleming, S. C. Chandler, and C. M. Cain (2021). Migratory bird hunting activity and harvest during the 2019–20 and 2020-21 hunting seasons. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2019). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2019. Version 2.07.2019. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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