Coots are rather small water birds that are members of the rail family, Rallidae. They constitute the genus Fulica, the name being the Latin term for "coot".[1] Coots have predominantly black plumage, and—unlike many rails—they are usually easy to see, often swimming in open water. They are close relatives of the moorhen.

Temporal range: Early Pliocene to present
Eurasian coot (Fulica atra)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Gruiformes
Family: Rallidae
Genus: Fulica
Linnaeus, 1758

For extinct and prehistoric species, see article text

Taxonomy and systematics

A group of coots may be referred to as a covert[2] or cover.[3]

Extant species

ImageScientific nameCommon NameDistribution
Fulica alai Peale, 1848Hawaiian coot or ʻAlae keʻokeʻoHawaii
Fulica americana Gmelin, 1789American cootsouthern Quebec to the Pacific coast of North America and as far south as northern South America
Fulica ardesiaca Tschudi, 1843Andean cootArgentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru
Fulica armillata Vieillot, 1817red-gartered cootArgentina, southern Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay
Fulica atra Linnaeus, 1758Eurasian coot or common cootEurope, Asia, Australia, and Africa
Fulica cornuta Bonaparte, 1853horned cootArgentina, Bolivia, Chile
Fulica cristata Gmelin, 1789Red-knobbed cootAfrica, Iberian Peninsula
Fulica gigantea Eydoux & Souleyet, 1841giant cootArgentina, Bolivia, Chile, Peru
Fulica leucoptera Vieillot, 1817white-winged cootArgentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Falkland Islands, Paraguay, Uruguay
Fulica rufifrons Philppi & Landbeck, 1861red-fronted cootArgentina, southern Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, southern Peru, Uruguay

Extinct species


Coots have prominent frontal shields or other decoration on the forehead, with red to dark red eyes and coloured bills. Many, but not all, have white on the under tail. The featherless shield gave rise to the expression "as bald as a coot," which the Oxford English Dictionary cites in use as early as 1430. Like other rails, they have long, lobed toes that are well adapted to soft, uneven surfaces. Coots have strong legs and can walk and run vigorously. They tend to have short, rounded wings and are weak fliers, though northern species nevertheless can cover long distances.

Distribution and habitat

The greatest species variety occurs in South America, and the genus likely originated there. They are common in Europe and North America.[4] Coot species that migrate do so at night. The American coot has been observed rarely in Britain and Ireland, while the Eurasian coot is found across Asia, Australia and parts of Africa. In southern Louisiana, the coot is referred to by the French name "poule d'eau", which translates into English as "water hen" or "moorhen".[5]

Behaviour and ecology

Coots are omnivorous, eating mainly plant material, but also small animals, fish and eggs. They are aggressively territorial during the breeding season, but are otherwise often found in sizeable flocks on the shallow vegetated lakes they prefer.

Chick mortality occurs mainly due to starvation rather than predation as coots have difficulty feeding a large family of hatchlings on the tiny shrimp and insects that they collect. Most chicks die in the first 10 days after hatching, when they are most dependent on adults for food.[6] Coots can be very brutal to their own young under pressure such as the lack of food, and after about three days they start attacking their own chicks when they beg for food. After a short while, these attacks concentrate on the weaker chicks, who eventually give up begging and die. The coot may eventually raise only two or three out of nine hatchlings.[7] In this attacking behaviour, the parents are said to "tousle" their young. This can result in the death of the chick.[8]


  1. Jobling, James A (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. p. 165. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  2. "What do you call a group of ...?". Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 19 April 2011.
  3. "Baltimore Bird Club. Group Name for Birds: A Partial List". Retrieved 2007-06-03.
  4. Olson, Storrs L. (1974). "The Pleistocene Rails of North America". Museum of Natural History.
  5. "American Coot".
  6. "This Coot has a Secret! - NatureOutside". 20 June 2015.
  7. The Life of Birds, David Attenborough. The Problems of Parenthood. 10:20.
  8. Clutton-Brock, TH., The Evolution of Parental Care, Princeton University Press, 1991 p. 203.
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