The American Coot (Fulica americana), also known as a Mud Hen, is a bird of the family Rallidae. Though commonly mistaken to be ducks, American Coots belong 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 to facilitate walking on dry land. Coots live near water, typically inhabiting wetlands and open water bodies in North America. Groups of coots are called covers or rafts.
The American Coot is a migratory bird that occupies most of North America. It lives in the Pacific and the southwestern United States and Mexico year-round and occupies more northeastern regions during the summer breeding season. In the winter they can be found as far south as Panama. Coots generally build floating nests and lay 8–12 eggs per clutch. Females and males have similar appearances, but they can be distinguished during aggressive displays by the larger ruff (head plumage) on the male. American Coots eat algae and other aquatic plants primarily but also animals (both vertebrates and invertebrates) when available.
The American coot is listed as “Least Concern” under the IUCN conservation ratings. Hunters generally avoid killing American Coots because their meat is not as sought after as that of ducks.
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 mechanisms to identify which offspring are theirs and which are from parasitic females. [Wikipedia]
The waterborne American Coot is one good reminder that not everything that floats is a duck. A close look at a coot—that small head, those scrawny legs—reveals a different kind of bird entirely. Their dark bodies and white faces are common sights in nearly any open water across the continent, and they often mix with ducks. But they’re closer relatives of the gangly Sandhill Crane and the nearly invisible rails than of Mallards or teal. [All About Birds]
American Coot Facts [All About Birds]
- Although it swims like a duck, the American Coot does not have webbed feet like a duck. Instead, each one of the coot’s long toes has broad lobes of skin that help it kick through the water. The broad lobes fold back each time the bird lifts its foot, so it doesn’t impede walking on dry land, though it supports the bird’s weight on the mucky ground.
- American Coots in the winter can be found in rafts of mixed waterfowl and in groups numbering up to several thousand individuals.
- The ecological impact of common animals, like this ubiquitous waterbird, can be impressive when you add it all up. One estimate from Back Bay, Virginia, suggested that the local coot population ate 216 tons (in dry weight) of vegetation per winter.
- The oldest known American Coot lived to be at least 22 years 4 months old.