American Coot: The Bird With Strange Feet


Looking like a duck but has fancier feet, the American coot is one strange-looking bird. When in the water, they look just like other water birds out there. The moment an American coot stands up and walks, it will immediately get your attention. Want to know a bit more about their appearance and lifestyle? Check out the details below and let me know what you think.


An American coot is a medium-sized water bird that measures from 34 to 43 centimeters in length. Adult American coots have a short and thick white bill and white frontal shield that stands out from its dark body. Their heads and neck are black while their bodies are either black or charcoal gray. They have red eyes and red areas on their forehead, and their legs are greenish or yellowish in color. You can tell males apart from females by the male’s larger ruff on the head during aggressive displays.

As for the most special feature of the American coots, the large feet without a web like other water birds. An American coot’s legs and toes have broad lobed scales that fold back with each step it takes. These feet allow them to effortlessly walk on muddy areas while making things easy when they are swimming as well.


American coots are migratory birds with a wide population distribution across North America. This species is highly gregarious, especially in winter when they fly in flocks of thousands of members. When swimming, an American coot displays strange behavior by bobbing its head back and forth. They are monogamous, and the pair bond becomes permanent when the couple secures their nesting territory. During the breeding season, they build floating nests that accommodate 8 to 12 eggs. One of the most interesting behaviors about these birds is how the mother feeds the chicks. Mother American coots prefer to feed chicks with the brightest plume feathers which results in them becoming drabber as they age.

3Feeding & Habitats

image: Lip Kee

When it comes to feeding, these coots can both dive and forage as well as scavenge for food. Their main diet is aquatic vegetation, especially algae but they also have an omnivorous diet including arthropods, fish, and other aquatic animals. Along with that, aquatic insects and mollusks are the meals that they prefer during the breeding season.

American coots are water birds so they always hang out near water areas such as open marshes and water reed-ringed lakes and ponds. They are fond of freshwater but they can also temporarily live in saltwater environments during the winter months. When nesting, they require tall marsh vegetation in shallow water for convenient nest-building. The current threats in their natural habitats nowadays are drought, habitat degradation, habitat loss, and water diversion.

Predation still affects the eggs despite how aggressive the parents are when it comes to protecting their eggs. The dad will aggressively defend his nesting territories by attacking intruders with his large feet. Some of the main predators that take their eggs sometimes are American crows, black-billed magpies, and Forster’s tern. When the breeding season is over, there are other predators lurking such as alligators, bobcats, eagles, gulls, harriers, and owls. The good thing is their population is doing really well so there is nothing to worry about.

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