American Coot

Mud hen, Marsh hen

Kingdom
Phylum
Class
Subclass
Infraclass
Superorder
Order
Family
Genus
SPECIES
Fulica americana
Population size
6 Mln
Life Span
9-22 yrs
WEIGHT
427-848 g
LENGTH
34-43 cm
WINGSPAN
58-71 cm

The waterborne American coot has a small head and thin legs. Its dark body and white face is a common sight on nearly any open water throughout the continent, often mixing with ducks. Despite this, they are closer relatives of the Long-legged sandhill crane and the almost invisible rails than of teal or mallards.

Distibution

In summer, American coots are found in New York and Massachusetts in the northern United States, and in southern Canada. During winter, they occur in the southern United States from Florida to California. Individuals have been sighted as far as Alaska in the north and South America in the south, always along waterways. Being freshwater birds, they live in the shallow parts of freshwater ponds, lakes, or marshes, and sometimes in brackish water. They occasionally live in manmade ponds in parks and golf courses.

American Coot habitat map

Biome

Habits and Lifestyle

American coots are diurnal social birds that live in flocks, and are the only rail family members to live in groups. These birds can make a wide range of noises, from clucking to grunting, to communicate with each other and also to threaten predators. On two occasions a coot will splash: in the mating season for the purpose of attracting attention, and also to discourage predators. Ospreys (a type of hawk) are their main predator. Since this species is more adapted to living on water than other birds, it is not possible for them to take off from a "dead start" like other birds, which can take flight when startled. Instead, in order to become airborne, they need to take a running start over the water. American coots are migratory, and they migrate as a flock, but their migration is weather-based and therefore is highly irregular.

Diet and Nutrition

An American coot is omnivorous and eats invertebrates, algae, plants, and small vertebrates such as fish and tadpoles, occasionally, eggs of other marsh birds, also sometimes stealing food from ducks.

Mating Habits

MATING BEHAVIOR
REPRODUCTION SEASON
May-June
INCUBATION PERIOD
21-25 days
INDEPENDENT AGE
2 months
BABY NAME
chick
BABY CARRYING
8-10 eggs

American coots are monogamous and pairs stay together for life. The mating process starts with great show. Male and female both start off displaying in front of each other and calling to one another, while they splash about. The mating process starts on the water and finishes on the land. Breeding occurs around May and June. Both adults construct a nest of about 35cm across. Nests are at the edge of reed cover at the pond’s edge. They have a ramp leading into the water for easier access for the young. 8 to 10 pink eggs with brown spots are laid at a time. Both parents incubate the eggs, for around 21 to 25 days. They share the tasks of feeding and teaching the young, dividing the hatchlings between them. After a month, young can dive for food, and when they are 5 to 6 weeks old they can fly, becoming fully independent at about 2 months.

Population

Population threats

Although now widespread and abundant, the American coot suffered huge declines during the late 18th century and the early 19th century due to hunting and loss of wetland in its main breeding areas in the mid-west of the United States and in east-central Canada. This species in some areas is now regarded as an agricultural pest, such as on golf courses and in rice fields, and, being a listed game bird, about 8,000 are killed each year in Canada and about 880,000 in the United States.

Population number

According to the IUCN Red List, the total American coot population size is estimated at 6 million individuals. Currently this species is classified as Least Concern (LC), but its numbers today are decreasing.

Ecological niche

American coots affect the populations of aquatic plants and invertebrates that they eat. They also serve as prey for predators which share their habitats.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • American coots are the only member in the rail family truly adapted to living on the water.
  • Coots are kleptoparasitic, meaning that sometimes they do not hunt for their own food, but steal it from other birds.
  • Nicknames for this bird are "mud hen" or "marsh hen", due to the way its head bobs when it walks or swims.
  • A group of coots is called by many names, including a "codgery", "commotion", “shoal”, “swarm” and "fleet" of coots.
  • Even though American coots swim like a duck, their feet are not webbed feet, as each segment of their toes has lobes on the side.

References

1. American Coot Wikipedia article - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_coot
2. American Coot on The IUCN Red List site - http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/62169677/0

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