American Coot

Fulica americana
American Coot specimens on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

A familiar duck-like waterbird, the American Coot (13-16 inches) is most easily identified by its dark gray body, white bill, and red frontal “shield” on forehead. Other field marks include red eyes, yellow legs with lobed feet, and a white patch underneath the tail. Male and female American Coots are similar to one another in all seasons. The American Coot breeds widely in the northern and western United States and southern Canada, as well as locally further south and east. Many northern birds migrate south for the winter, when they may be found widely in the southeastern U.S., in the desert southwest, and along the coasts of Mexico and Central America. Birds breeding in the southern part of this species’ range, as well as populations in central Mexico and in the West Indies, are non-migratory. American Coots breed in relatively deep, well-vegetated freshwater wetlands. Wintering birds may occur on freshwater marshes, and may also venture into brackish or salt water lagoons, bays, and estuaries. This species primarily eats aquatic plant material. American Coots may be observed feeding by picking plant matter off of the surface or by submerging their heads to feed on underwater plants. This species may also be observed walking on the shore or running along the surface of the water while attempting to become airborne. American Coots are primarily active during the day; however, this species does migrate at night.

DC Information

Found commonly throughout the year. Large populations, forming flocks in winter, arrive in late September and October, and stay until March and April. Inhabits ponds, bays, and marshes with dense aquatic vegetation. Nests from early May to late July. Sexes are similar.

Specimen Information

This record relates to the bird on the left.
Date:  11/5/1911
Collected By:  Nat'l Zoo Park
Locality:  Not recorded
Sex:  Not recorded
Catalog ID:  223155
This is likely the record for the bird on the right.
Date:  4/16/1912
Collected By:  Henry R Marshall
Locality:  Laurel, MD
Sex:  Not recorded
Catalog ID:  233680

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species

Bird Vocalizations

Sound from xeno-canto. XC66143 Fulica americana (American Coot)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC66144 Fulica americana (American Coot)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC45515 Fulica americana (American Coot)