American Coot, Fulica americana
American Coots are highly adaptable birds and can be found in a wide range of freshwater habitats. They inhabit marshes, ponds, lakes, reservoirs, and slow-moving rivers throughout North America. They are commonly seen in both natural and human-altered wetland areas, such as flooded fields and sewage treatment ponds.
American Coots have a distinctive white bill and forehead shield, which contrasts with their dark plumage. The shield, which is composed of modified feathers, serves as a territorial display during courtship and aggression.
They have lobed feet rather than webbed feet like most waterfowl, which aid in swimming and walking on floating vegetation. Their toes have scalloped lobes that provide efficient propulsion in water.
American Coots are omnivorous and primarily feed on aquatic vegetation. They graze on submerged plants, algae, and various types of aquatic invertebrates, including insects, snails, and small crustaceans. They are proficient divers and can plunge underwater to forage for food. They also occasionally feed on land, consuming grasses and other plant materials.
They often nest in colonies, forming large groups in suitable habitats. They build nests in marshy areas, constructing them above the waterline. The nests are often situated in dense vegetation, such as cattails or reeds. The birds use aquatic plants, twigs, and other available materials to build a bulky nest structure. They may construct their nests on floating platforms made of plant material or directly on vegetation above the water.
American Coots can exhibit aggressive behaviors, especially during the breeding season. They engage in territorial disputes, including chasing and pecking at intruders, to defend their nesting areas and food resources.
The female American Coot lays a clutch of 8 to 12 eggs, usually one per day. The eggs are initially pale brown or buff-colored but become stained and darker over time. Incubation is performed by both parents and lasts for around 21 to 25 days. Once the eggs hatch, the precocial chicks leave the nest shortly after birth and are capable of swimming and foraging under the guidance of their parents.
Both the male and female American Coots actively participate in raising their young. The parents provide protection and guidance to the chicks, leading them to suitable foraging areas. The chicks primarily feed on small invertebrates, aquatic plants, and seeds. The parents also regurgitate food for the young, especially during their early stages of development.
American Coot chicks fledge, or acquire their flight feathers, at around 35 to 45 days after hatching. Once they fledge, they can fly short distances and gradually develop stronger flight capabilities.
While some American Coots are year-round residents, others undertake seasonal migrations, particularly in the northern parts of their range. They may migrate to warmer regions during winter, seeking open water and food resources.