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Overview

Brief Summary

Fulica americana

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.

Threat Status: Least concern

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Distribution

National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Breeding

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

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Global Range: BREEDS: east-central Alaska (casual), southern Yukon east through central Manitoba to Prince Edward Island, south locally to southern Baja California, Gulf Coast, Florida, Nicaragua and northwestern Costa Rica, West Indies (not Puerto Rico or Virgin Islands). WINTERS: Pacific coast, and north to the southwestern U.S., lower Ohio Valley, and Maryland, south throughout Middle America, southeastern U.S., and West Indies to Panama and probably Colombia. RESIDENT in Hawaii and in South America in the Andes from Colombia south to western Bolivia, northern Chile, and northwestern Argentina. (AOU 1983). Birds from North America apparently are regularly present as nonbreeding visitors in Hawaii (Pratt 1987).

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Geographic Range

American Coots are migratory birds native to the Nearctic region. During the summer, these birds are found centered around the freshwater lakes and ponds of the northern United States and southern Canada. During the winter they head to the southern portion of the United States from California to Florida. They live mostly within the boundaries of the contiguous United States, but some individuals have been found as far away as Alaska and South America.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

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Geographic Range

Fulica americana, commonly known as the American coot, is a migratory bird. During the summer, these birds are found in freshwater lakes and ponds of the northern United States (New York and Massachusets) and southern Canada. During winter, they head to the southern portion of the United States and are found from California to Florida. Fulica americana lives mostly within the boundaries of the contiguous United States, but individuals have been found as far away as Alaska and South America (Halsey 1990; Terres 1980; Udvardy 1994).

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

American Coots are about 38 cm long and, during the winter, will weigh up to almost 900 g. They have a wingspan of 58 to 71 cm. Their feathers are dark grey, with a white patch under the tail. The bill is also white, with a red swelling along the upper edge. The males and females look alike. The lobed toes make the coot a powerful swimmer, especially in open water. Though able to fly, the coot has short rounded wings which make it difficult to take off. Once in the air, the coot can fly as well as any other bird.

Average mass: 900 g.

Average length: 38.0 cm.

Range wingspan: 58.0 to 71.0 cm.

Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike

Average mass: 450.8 g.

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Physical Description

Fulica americana is about 38 cm long and during the winter will weigh up to almost 0.9 kg. They have a wingspan of 58 to 71 cm. Their feathers are dark grey, with a white patch under the tail. The bill is also white, with a red swelling along the upper edge. Their lobed toes make coots powerful swimmers, especially in open water. Though capable of flight, coots have short, rounded wings which make it difficult to take off. Once in the air, coots can fly as well as any other bird (Grzimek 1975; Terres 1980; Udvardy 1994).

Average mass: 900 g.

Average length: 38.0 cm.

Range wingspan: 58.0 to 71.0 cm.

Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike

Average mass: 450.8 g.

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Size

Length: 39 cm

Weight: 724 grams

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Diagnostic Description

Differs from gallinules in having lobed toes and lacking red on the bill; lacks the white line on the sides of the common moorhen. Differs from Caribbean coot in having a smaller forehead shield that is reddish-brown instead of white or white tinged with yellow (some American coots have an extensively white forehead shield). Differs from Eurasian coot in being slightly smaller and paler and having the undertail coverts black and white rather than all black; also the forehead shield is reddish-brown forehead shield instead of all white.

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Ecology

Habitat

Comments: Freshwater lakes, ponds, marshes, and larger rivers, wintering also on brackish estuaries and bays. Also on land bordering these habitats. Calm open water with plenty of algae and other aquatic vegetation (Stiles and Skutch 1989). Typically builds floating nest among marsh plants in 30-100 cm of water (Harrison 1979). In south-central Saskatchewn, nesting habitat and reproductive effort and success were greatly reduced during drought (Sutherland 1991).

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Habitat and Ecology

Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Freshwater
  • Marine
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Whether wintering in the south or spending the summer in the north, American Coots live along the edge of the water. They are freshwater birds and live in the shallow areas of freshwater lakes, ponds or marshes. They have also been found living in the man-made ponds of parks or golf courses.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; freshwater

Aquatic Biomes: lakes and ponds

Wetlands: marsh

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Whether wintering in the south or spending the summer in the north, coots live along waterways. They are freshwater birds and live in the shallows of freshwater lakes, ponds or marshes, although they may be seen in brackish water occasionally. They have also been found living in the manmade ponds of parks or golf courses (CSUB website 1998; Terres 1980).

Habitat Regions: temperate ; freshwater

Aquatic Biomes: lakes and ponds

Wetlands: marsh

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Depth range based on 40 specimens in 1 taxon.

Environmental ranges
  Depth range (m): 0 - 0
 
Note: this information has not been validated. Check this *note*. Your feedback is most welcome.

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Migration

Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.

Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

Generally arrives in northern breeding areas March-May, departs by October-November (in portion of range in which it is migratory, especially northern inland areas) (Bent 1926). Migrants arrive in Costa Rica generally by October, most depart by end of April (Stiles and Skutch 1989).

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Trophic Strategy

Comments: Eats seeds, roots, and other plant material, insects, snails, small fishes, tadpoles, and other small organism; feeds on land and in water (at surface, by tipping up, and by diving) (Terres 1980).

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Food Habits

American coots are omnivorous. They will eat small aquatic animals (Actinopterygii or Amphibia), Insecta, and vegetation found in the pond. American coots have the ability to dive for their food, much like ducks. When diving, they seek the plants that grow on the bottom of the pond. After bringing plants up to the surface, American coots will go through them looking for the edible bits. Even though they are capable of searching out their own food, they have been known to steal food from other birds.

Animal Foods: amphibians; fish; insects; mollusks; aquatic crustaceans

Plant Foods: leaves

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Food Habits

Fulica americana is an omnivorious species. It will eat small aquatic animals (fish or tadpoles), insects, and vegetation found in the pond. Coots have the ability to dive after its food, much like ducks. When diving, they seek the plants that grow on the bottom of the pond. After bringing plants up to the surface, coots will go through them looking for the edible bits. Even though F. americana is capable of searching out its own food, it has been known to steal food from other birds (Grzimek 1975; Terres 1980; Udvardy 1994).

Animal Foods: amphibians; fish; insects; mollusks; aquatic crustaceans

Plant Foods: leaves

Primary Diet: omnivore

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Associations

Ecosystem Roles

American Coots influence populations of aquatic invertebrates and plants and serve as a prey base for predators in their habitats.

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Predation

American coots have a certain sound to warn other birds of predators. They will also splash around in the water to discourage predators. They are preyed upon by Pandion haliaetus and Haliaeetus leucocephalus as adults. Eggs and nestlings are preyed upon by Procyon lotor, Mephitis mephitis, Vulpes vulpes, Canis latrans, Chelydra serpentina, and many other small predators.

Known Predators:

  • osprey (Pandion_haliaetus)
  • bald eagles (Haliaeetus_leucocephalus)
  • raccoons (Procyon_lotor)
  • striped skunks (Mephitis_mephitis)
  • red foxes (Vulpes_vulpes)
  • coyotes (Canis_latrans)

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Ecosystem Roles

American Coots influence populations of aquatic invertebrates and plants and serve as a prey base for predators in their habitats.

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Predation

American coots have a certain sound to warn other birds of predators. They will also splash around in the water to discourage predators. They are preyed upon by osprey and bald eagles as adults. Eggs and nestlings are preyed upon by raccoons, skunks, foxes, coyotes, snapping turtles, and many other small predators.

Known Predators:

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Known predators

Fulica americana is prey of:
Bubo virginianus
Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Pandion haliaetus
Mephitis mephitis
Procyon lotor
Canis latrans
Vulpes vulpes

Based on studies in:
Canada: Manitoba (Forest)

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
  • R. D. Bird, Biotic communities of the Aspen Parkland of central Canada, Ecology, 11:356-442, from p. 410 (1930).
  • Myers, P., R. Espinosa, C. S. Parr, T. Jones, G. S. Hammond, and T. A. Dewey. 2006. The Animal Diversity Web (online). Accessed February 16, 2011 at http://animaldiversity.org. http://www.animaldiversity.org
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Known prey organisms

Fulica americana preys on:
non-insect arthropods
Podilymbus podiceps

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
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General Ecology

Nonbreeding: often in groups (Stiles and Skutch 1989).

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Communication and Perception

American Coots can make a wide variety of noises, from grunting to clucking, as a means of communication, between each other and to threatening predators. There are two times a coot will splash: during mating season to attract attention and to discourage predators. American Coots also use their good sense of vision to communicate.

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Communication and Perception

American Coots can make a wide variety of noises, from grunting to clucking, as a means of communication, between each other and to threatening predators. There are two times a coot will splash: during mating season to attract attention and to discourage predators. American Coots also use their good sense of vision to communicate.

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Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

The average lifespan is 9 years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
9.0 years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
268 months.

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Lifespan/Longevity

The average lifespan is 9 years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
9.0 years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
268 months.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 22.3 years (wild)
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Reproduction

Clutch size is 6-22 (most often 8-12 in North America; average about 6 in Hawaii). Incubation lasts 23-24 days, by both sexes. Young are tended by both parents, though brood may be divided between them. First flies probably at 7-8 weeks. Usually renests if first clutch is destroyed (Condor 95:273-281); easily able to produce many additional eggs (Auk 109:407-421).

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When it becomes time for the coot to mate (usually around May and June), the process begins with great show. Both sexes start out displaying themselves in front of the other. They call to one another, while splashing about. The mating process begins on the water and ends on the land. The female coot assumes a submissive posture (crouched with head down) as an invitation to the male for sex. She maintains this position while mating.

Males and females work together to build a nest that is about 35 cm across. These nests are located at the edge of the reed cover of a pond. All nests have a ramp that leads into the water so the young have easier access when coming and going from the nest. Females lay 8 to 10 eggs at a time. The eggs are a pink color with brown spots.

Breeding interval: Mating begins in May or June.

Breeding season: Breeding occurs in May through June.

Range eggs per season: 8 to 10.

Average time to hatching: 23.0 days.

Range fledging age: 5.0 to 8.0 weeks.

Key Reproductive Features: seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); fertilization

Average time to hatching: 23 days.

Average eggs per season: 10.

Both the male and female incubate the eggs, which means the parents take turns keeping the eggs warm until they hatch. The eggs hatch about 23 days after the female lays them. The young look like the adults, except they are lighter in color. Both parents share the job of feeding and teaching their young, dividing the number of chicks between them. After one month, the young can dive underwater for their own food. They can fly 5 to 6 weeks after hatching and are fully independent after about 2 months.

Parental Investment: altricial ; male parental care ; female parental care

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When it becomes time for the coot to mate (usually around May and June), the process begins with great show. Both sexes start out displaying themselves in front of the other. They call to one another, while splashing about. The mating process begins on the water and ends on the land. The female coot assumes a submissive posture (crouched with head down) as an invitation to the male for sex. She maintains this position while mating.

Both the male and female care for the eggs and the young. They work together to build a nest that is about 35 cm across. These nests are located at the edge of the reed cover at the edge of the pond. All nests have a ramp that leads into the water, so the young have easier access when coming and going from the nest. The female lays 8 to 10 eggs at a time. The eggs are a pink color with brown spots. Both the male and female take turns keeping the eggs incubated until they hatch in about 23 days.

The young look like the adults, except they are lighter in color. The parents share the job of feeding and teaching their young, dividing the number of young between them. After one month, the young can dive for their own food. They can fly 5 to 6 weeks after hatching and are fully independent after about 2 months (Grzimek 1975; Terres 1980).

Breeding interval: Mating begins in May or June.

Breeding season: Breeding occurs in May through June.

Range eggs per season: 8 to 10.

Average time to hatching: 23.0 days.

Range fledging age: 5.0 to 8.0 weeks.

Key Reproductive Features: seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); fertilization

Average time to hatching: 23 days.

Average eggs per season: 10.

Both the male and female incubate the eggs, which means the parents take turns keeping the eggs warm until they hatch. The eggs hatch about 23 days after the female lays them. The young look like the adults, except they are lighter in color. Both parents share the job of feeding and teaching their young, dividing the number of chicks between them. After one month, the young can dive underwater for their own food. They can fly 5 to 6 weeks after hatching and are fully independent after about 2 months.

Parental Investment: altricial ; male parental care ; female parental care

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Fulica americana

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


There are 5 barcode sequences available from BOLD and GenBank.  Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.  See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.

ACTCTACTTAATTTTCGGAGCCTGAGCCGGCATAATCGGCACCGCCCTCAGCCTGCTTATTCGAGCAGAATTAGGACAACCAGGCACCCTCCTAGGAGACGACCAAATTTACAATGTAATCGTCACCGCCCACGCCTTTGTAATAATTTTCTTTATAGTAATACCAATCATAATCGGAGGTTTCGGCAACTGACTAGTACCTCTCATAATCGGAGCCCCAGACATAGCATTTCCCCGCATAAATAACATAAGCTTCTGACTCCTCCCCCCCTCCTTCCTACTACTCCTAGCATCATCCACAGTAGAAGCAGGAGCAGGCACAGGATGAACAGTTTACCCCCCACTAGCCGGCAACCTAGCACATGCAGGCGCTTCAGTTGACCTAGCCATCTTCTCCCTCCACTTAGCGGGCGTCTCATCTATCCTAGGCGCCATCAATTTTATTACAACTGCCATCAACATAAAACCACCCGCCCTATCCCAATACCAAACTCCCCTATTCGTATGATCCGTCCTTATCACCGCTGTTCTACTATTACTGTCCCTCCCTGTCCTTGCCGCCGGCATTACTATACTACTAACCGACCGAAACCTAAATACCACATTCTTCGACCCAGCTGGAGGAGGCGACCCTATCCTATACCAACATCTCTTCTGATTCTTTGGCCANNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN
-- end --

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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Fulica americana

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 5
Specimens with Barcodes: 6
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: N5B - Secure

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N5B,N5N : N5B: Secure - Breeding, N5N: Secure - Nonbreeding

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure

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IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2012

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S. & Symes, A.

Contributor/s

Justification
This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
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American Coots are an abundant and widespread species. They are not endangered, nor are they threatened, but they are protected by the Migratory Bird Act. The Hawaiian Coot, a relative of the American Coot, has been on the endangered species list since 1970.

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

US Migratory Bird Act: protected

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

State of Michigan List: no special status

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Fulica americana is an abundant and widespread species. The American coot is not endangered, nor is it threatened. The Hawaiian coot, Fulica americana alai is the only subspecies of the coot family that is endangered. This bird has been on the endangered species list since 1970. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2000)

US Migratory Bird Act: protected

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

State of Michigan List: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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Population

Population
The population is estimated to number 6,000,000 individuals.

Population Trend
Decreasing
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Uses

Comments: Hunted in almost every state (Eddleman et al. 1988).

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

The American Coot is not used as a human food source, and due to the awkwardness of their take-off and early flight, they are not used as game birds.

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Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Coots negatively affect humans when they choose to nest on golf courses or parks and leave excrement behind (CSUB 1998).

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Due to the awkwardness of the coot's take-off and early flight, they are not typically hunted as game birds. (Halsey 1990).

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Wikipedia

American coot

The American Coot (Fulica americana) (a.k.a. mud hen) is a bird of the family Rallidae. Though commonly mistaken to be ducks, American Coots belong to a distinct order. Unlike the webbed feet of ducks, coots have broad, lobed scales on their lower legs and toes that fold back with each step in order to facilitate walking on dry land.[2] Coots live near water, typically inhabiting wetlands and open water bodies in North America. Groups of coots are called covers or rafts. The oldest known coot lived to be 22 years old.[2]

The American Coot is a migratory bird that occupies most of North America. It lives in the Pacific and southwestern United States and Mexico year-round and occupies more northeastern regions during the summer breeding season. In the winter they can be found as far south as Panama.[2] Coots generally build floating nests and lay 8–12 eggs per clutch.[2] Females and males have similar appearances, but they can be distinguished during aggressive displays by the larger ruff (head plumage) on the male.[3] American Coots eat primarily algae and other aquatic plants but also animals (both vertebrates and invertebrates) when available.[4]

The American Coot is listed as “Least Concern” under the IUCN conservation ratings. Hunters generally avoid killing American Coots because their meat is not as sought after as that of ducks.[2]

Much research has been done on the breeding habits of American Coots. Studies have found that mothers will preferentially feed offspring with the brightest plume feathers, a characteristic known as chick ornaments.[5] American Coots are also susceptible to conspecific brood parasitism and have evolved mechanisms to identify which offspring are theirs and which are from parasitic females.[6]

Taxonomy[edit]

Note feet and red top of frontal shield

The American Coot was first described by Johann Friedrich Gmelin in 1789. A member of the Rallidae family, it has three subspecies: Fulica americana alai, F. a. caribaea, and F. a. ardesiaca.[4] These subspecies, however, are sometimes considered to be their own separate species. Including these 'subspecies', there are 11 members of the genus Fulica distributed across the globe.[7]

Coot fossils from the Middle Pleistocene of California have been described as Fulica hesterna but cannot be separated from the present-day American Coot.[8] However, the Pleistocene coot Fulica shufeldti (formerly F. minor), famously known as part of the Fossil Lake fauna, quite possibly was a paleosubspecies of the American Coot (as Fulica americana shufeldti) as they only differed marginally in size and proportions from living birds.[9] Thus, it seems that the modern-type American Coots evolved during the mid-late Pleistocene, a few hundred thousand years ago.[8][9]

The American Coot's genus name, Fulica, is a direct borrowing of the Latin word for "coot".[10] The specific epithet americana means "America".[11]

Description[edit]

The American Coot measures 34–43 cm (13–17 in) in length and 58–71 cm (23–28 in) across the wings. Adults have a short, thick, white bill and white frontal shield, which usually has a reddish-brown spot near the top of the bill between the eyes. Males and females look alike, but females are smaller. Body mass in females ranges from 427 to 628 g (0.941 to 1.385 lb) and in males from 576 to 848 g (1.270 to 1.870 lb).[12][13][14] Juvenile birds have olive-brown crowns and a gray body. They become adult-colored around 4 months of age.[4]

Brooklyn Museum - American Coot - John J. Audubon

Vocalizations[edit]

The American Coot has a variety of repeated calls and sounds. Male and female coots make different types of calls to similar situations. Male alarm calls are puhlk while female alarm calls are poonk. Also, stressed males go puhk-cowah or pow-ur while females call cooah.[4]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

American Coot on take-off

American Coots are found near water reed-ringed lakes and ponds, open marshes, and sluggish rivers. They prefer freshwater environments but may temporarily live in saltwater environments during the winter months.[4]

The American Coot's breeding habitat extends from marshes in southern Quebec to the Pacific coast of North America and as far south as northern South America. Birds from temperate North America east of the Rocky Mountains migrate to the southern United States and southern British Columbia. It is often a year-round resident where water remains open in winter. The number of birds that stay year-round near the northern limit of the species' range seems to be increasing.[15][16]

Autumn migration occurs from August to December, with males and non-breeders moving south before the females and juveniles. Spring migration to breeding ranges occurs from late February to mid-May, with males and older birds moving North first. There has been evidence of birds travelling as far north as Greenland and Iceland.[4]

Behavior[edit]

The American Coot is regularly found in sizable flocks.

The American Coot is a highly gregarious species, particularly in the winter, when its flocks can number in the thousands.[17]

Feeding[edit]

The American Coot can dive for food but can also forage and scavenge on land. It is omnivorous, eating plant material, arthropods, fish, and other aquatic animals. Its principal source of food is aquatic vegetation, especially algae. During breeding season, coots are more likely to eat aquatic insects and mollusks—which constitute the majority of a chick's diet.[4]

Breeding[edit]

The Coot mating season occurs during May and June.[18] Coot mate pairings are monogamous throughout their life, given they have a suitable territory. A typical reproductive cycle involves multiple stages: pairing, nesting, copulation, egg deposition, incubation, and hatching.[19] The American Coot typically has long courtship periods. This courtship period is characterized by billing, bowing, and nibbling. Males generally initiate billing, which is the touching of bills between individuals. As the pair bond becomes more evident, both males and females will initiate billing only with each other and not other males or females. After a pair bond is cemented, the mating pair looks for a territory to build a nest in. A pair bond becomes permanent when a nesting territory is secured. Copulation behavior among Coot pairs always falls under the same general pattern.[19] First the male chases the female. Then, the female moves to the display platform and squats with her head under the water. The male then mounts the female, using his claws and wings to balance on the female's back while the she brings her head above the water. Sexual Intercourse usually takes no longer than two seconds.[19]

Nests[edit]

Nesting-American-coot

The American Coot is a prolific builder and will create multiple structures during a single breeding season. It nests in well-concealed locations in tall reeds. There are three general types of structures: display platforms, egg nests and brood nests.

  • Display platforms are used as roosting sites and are left to decompose after copulation.
  • Egg nests are typically 30 cm (12 in) in diameter with a 30–38 cm (12–15 in) ramp that allows the parents to enter and exit without tearing the sides of the nests. Coots will often build multiple egg nests before selecting one to lay their eggs in.
  • Brood nests are nests that are either newly constructed or have simply been converted from old egg nests after the eggs hatch. They are simply larger egg nests.

Since American Coots build on the water, their structures disintegrate easily and have short life spans. Egg and brood nests are actually elaborate rafts, and must be constantly added to in order to stay afloat. Females typically do the most work while building.[19]

Egg-laying and clutch size[edit]

Females deposit one egg a day until the clutch is complete. Eggs are usually deposited between sunset and midnight. Typically, early season and first clutches average two more eggs than second nestings and late season clutches. Early season nests see an average of 9.0 eggs per clutch while late clutches see an average of 6.4 eggs per clutch. There is an inverse relationship between egg weights and laying sequence,[20] wherein earlier eggs are larger than eggs laid later in the sequence. It is possible to induce a female Coot to lay more eggs than normal by either removing all or part of her clutch. Sometimes, a female may abandon the clutch if enough eggs are removed. Coots, however, do not respond to experimental addition of eggs by laying fewer eggs.[21]

The American Coot is a persistent re-nester, and will replace lost clutches with new ones within two days of clutch-loss during deposition. One study showed that 68% of destroyed clutches are eventually replaced. Re-nested clutches are typically smaller than original clutches by one or two eggs, but this could be attributed to differences in time and habitat quality instead of food or nutrient reserves and availability.[22]

Younger females reproduce later in the season and produce smaller eggs than older females. Their offspring are also smaller. However, there is no difference in clutch size between older and younger females like in other avian species.[23]

Incubation and hatching[edit]

Incubation start time in the American Coot is variable, and can begin anywhere from the deposition of the first egg to after the clutch is fully deposited. Starting incubation before the entire clutch has been laid is an uncommon practice among birds.[24] Once incubation starts it continues without interruption. Male and female Coots share incubation responsibility, but males do most of the work during the 21-day incubation period. Females will begin to re-nest clutches in an average of six days if clutches are destroyed during incubation.[22]

Hatch order usually follows the same sequence as laying order. Regardless of clutch size, eight is the typical maximum size of a brood. Egg desertion is a frequent occurrence among Coots because females will often deposit more than eight eggs. Brood size limits incubation time, and when a certain number of chicks have hatched the remaining eggs are abandoned. The mechanism for egg abandonment has not yet been discovered. Food resource constraints may limit the number of eggs parents let hatch, or the remaining eggs may not provide enough visual or tactile stimulation to elicit incubation behavior.[24] An American Coot can be forced to hatch more eggs than are normally laid. These additional offspring, however, suffer higher mortality rates due to inadequacy in brooding or feeding ability.[25]

Maternal effects[edit]

Hormones that are passed down from the mother into the egg affect offspring growth, behavior, and social interactions. These nongenetic contributions by the mother are known as maternal effects. In the American Coot, two levels of androgen and testosterone variation have been discovered—within-clutch and among-clutch variation. Within the same clutch, eggs laid earlier in the sequence have higher testosterone levels than eggs laid later in the sequence. Females that lay three clutches deposit more androgens into their yolks than females who lay only one or two clutches.[26]

Brood parasitism[edit]

The American Coot has a mixed reproductive strategy, and conspecific brood parasitism is a common alternative reproductive method. In one 4-year study, researchers found that 40% of nests were parasitized, and that 13% of all eggs were laid by females in nests that were not their own.[27] Increasing reproductive success under social and ecological constraints is the primary reason for brood parasitism. Floater females without territories or nests use brood parasitism as their primary method of reproduction, if they breed at all. Other females may engage in brood parasitism if their partially complete clutches are destroyed. Conspecific brood parasitic behavior is most common among females trying to increase their total number of offspring. Food supply is the limiting factor to chick survival and starvation is the most common cause of chick morbidity. Parasitic females bypass the parental care constraint of feeding by laying additional parasitic eggs in addition to their normal nest.[27]

When a parasitic female lays her egg in a host female’s nest, the host female experiences a deposition rate of two eggs per day. Host females may recognize parasitic eggs when the egg deposition pattern deviates from the traditional one egg per day pattern.[21] The occurrence of brood parasitism may be influenced by the body size of the potential parasitic female relative to the potential host female. Parasitic females are generally larger than their host counterparts, but on average, there is no size difference between the parasite and the host.[28]

The American Coot, unlike other parasitized species, has the ability to recognize and reject conspecific parasitic chicks from their brood.[6] Parents aggressively reject parasite chicks by pecking them vigorously, drowning them, preventing them from entering the nest, etc. They learn to recognize their own chicks by imprinting on cues from the first chick that hatches. The first-hatched chick is a reference to which parents discriminate between later-hatched chicks. Chicks that do not match the imprinted cues are then recognized as parasite chicks and are rejected.[6]

Chick recognition reduces the costs associated with parasitism, and Coots are one of only three bird species in which this behavior has evolved. This is because hatching order is predictable in parasitized Coots—host eggs will reliably hatch before parasite eggs. In other species where hatching order is not as reliable, there is a risk of misimprinting on a parasite chick first and then rejecting their own chicks. In these species, the cost of accidentally misimprinting is greater than the benefits of rejecting parasite chicks.[6]

Chick ornaments[edit]

American coot with two chicks

The first evidence for parental selection of exaggerated, ornamental traits in offspring was found in American Coots.[29] Black American Coot chicks have conspicuously orange-tipped ornamental plumes covering the front half of their body that are known as “chick ornaments” that eventually get bleached out after six days. This brightly colored, exaggerated trait makes Coot chicks more susceptible to predation and does not aid in thermoregulation, but remains selected for by parental choice. These plumes are not necessary for chick viability, but increased chick ornamentation increases the likelihood that a chick will be chosen as a favorite by the parents. Experimental manipulation of chick ornamentation by clipping the bright plumes have shown that parents show clear preferences for ornamented chicks over non-ornamented ones.[29]

Predation[edit]

The American Coot is fairly aggressive in defense of its eggs and, in combination with their protected nesting habitat, undoubtedly helps reduce losses of eggs and young to all but the most determined and effective predators. American Crows, Black-billed Magpies and Forster's Tern can sometime take eggs. Mammalian predators (including red foxes, coyotes, skunks and raccoons) are even less likely to predate coot nests, though nests are regularly destroyed in usurpation by muskrats. Conversely, the bold behavior of immature and adult coots leads to them falling prey with relative regularity once out of the breeding season. Regular, non-nesting-season predators include Great Horned Owls, Northern Harriers, Bald Eagles, Golden Eagles, American alligators, bobcats, Great Black-backed and California Gulls. In fact, Coots may locally comprise more than 80% of the Bald Eagle diet.[30]

In culture[edit]

On the Louisiana coast, the Cajun word for coot is pouldeau, from French for "coot", poule d'eau – literally "water hen". Coot can be used for cooking; it is somewhat popular in Cajun cuisine, for instance as an ingredient for gumbos cooked at home by duck hunters.[31]

The bird is the mascot of the Toledo Mud Hens Minor League Baseball team.[32]

Conservation and threats[edit]

The American Coot is listed under "least concern" by the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species. They are common and widespread, and are sometimes even considered a pest. They are rarely the targets of hunters since their meat is not considered to be as good as that of ducks; although some are shot for sport, particularly in the southeastern United States. Because they are found in wetlands, scientists use them to monitor toxin levels and pollution problems in these environments.[2]

References[edit]

  1. ^ BirdLife International (2012). "Fulica americana". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f "American Coot". allaboutbirds.org. 
  3. ^ Gullion, Gordon W. (1952). "The Displays and Calls of the American Coot". The Wilson Bulletin 64 (2): 83–97. Retrieved 11 July 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Hoyo, Josep del (1996). Handbook of the Birds of the World. Lynx Edicions. ISBN 8487334202. 
  5. ^ Davies, Nicholas B.; John R. Krebs and Stuart A. West (2012). "8". Behavioural Ecology. West Sussex, UK: John Wiley and Sons. ISBN 9781405114165. 
  6. ^ a b c d Shizuka, Daizaburo; Lyon, Bruce E. (16 December 2009). "Coots use hatch order to recognize and reject conspecific brood parasitic chicks". Nature 463 (7278): 223–226. doi:10.1038/nature08655. PMID 20016486. 
  7. ^ "Fulica". Tree of Life Web Project. Retrieved 21 January 2013. 
  8. ^ a b Olson, Storrs L. (1974). "The Pleistocene Rails of North America". Museum of Natural History. 
  9. ^ a b Jehl, Joseph R. (1967). "Pleistocene Birds from Fossil Lake, Oregon". The Condor 69 (1): 24–27. doi:10.2307/1366369. 
  10. ^ Jobling, James A. (2009). Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. Christopher Helm Publishers. p. 165. ISBN 978-1408125014. 
  11. ^ Jobling, James A. (2009). Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. Christopher Helm Publishers. p. 44. ISBN 978-1408125014. 
  12. ^ CRC Handbook of Avian Body Masses by John B. Dunning Jr. (Editor). CRC Press (1992), ISBN 978-0-8493-4258-5.
  13. ^ "American Coot". Arkive. Retrieved 11 July 2013. 
  14. ^ American Coot – Fulica americana. oiseaux-birds.com
  15. ^ Henninger, W. F. (1906). "A Preliminary List of Birds in Seneca County, Ohio". The Wilson Bulletin 18 (2): 47–60. JSTOR 4154076. 
  16. ^ "American Coot". Ohio Ornithological Society. Retrieved 21 January 2013. 
  17. ^ Dunne, Pete (2006). Pete Dunne's Essential Field Companion. New York, NY, USA: Houghton, Mifflin. pp. 189–190. ISBN 978-0-618-23648-0. 
  18. ^ Bridgman, Allison; Rudi Berkelhamer. "American Coot". BioKids. University of Michigan. Retrieved 11 July 2013. 
  19. ^ a b c d Gullion, Gordon (October 1954). "Reproductive Cycle in American Coots". Auk 71 (4): 366–412. doi:10.2307/4081536. JSTOR 4081536. 
  20. ^ Alisauskas, Ray T. (Feb 1986). "Variation in the Composition of the Eggs and Chicks of American Coots". The Condor 88 (1): 84–90. doi:10.2307/1367757. JSTOR 1367757. 
  21. ^ a b Arnold, Todd W. (July 1992). "Continuous Laying by American Coots in Response to Partial Clutch Removal and Total Clutch Loss". The Auk. 3 109: 407–421. JSTOR 4088356. 
  22. ^ a b Arnold, Todd W. (May 1993). "Factors Affecting Renesting in American Coots". The Condor 95 (2): 273–281. doi:10.2307/1369349. JSTOR 1369349. 
  23. ^ Crawford, Richard D. (Jan 1980). "Effects of Age on Reproduction in American Coots". The Journal of Wildlife Management. 1 44: 183–189. doi:10.2307/3808364. JSTOR 3808364. 
  24. ^ a b Fredrickson, Leigh H. (July 1969). "An Experimental Study of Clutch Size of the American Coo". The Auk. 3 86 (3): 541–550. doi:10.2307/4083414. JSTOR 4083414. 
  25. ^ Ryan, Mark R.; James J. Dinsmore (May 1979). "A Quantitative Study of the Behavior of Breeding American Coots". The Auk 96: 704–713. 
  26. ^ Reed, Wendy L.; Carol M. Vleck (March 2001). "Functional significance of variation in egg-yolk androgens in the American coot". Oecologia 128 (2): 164–171. doi:10.1007/s004420100642. 
  27. ^ a b Lyon, Bruce; et al. (October 1992). "Conspecfic brood parasitism as a flexible female reproductive tactic in American coots". Animal Behavior 46 (5): 911–928. doi:10.1006/anbe.1993.1273. 
  28. ^ Lyon, Bruce; et al. (2003). "Ecological and social constraints on conspecific brood parasitism by nesting female American coots (Fulica americana)". Journal of Animal Ecology 72: 47–61. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2656.2003.00674.x. 
  29. ^ a b Lyon, Bruce; et al. (September 1994). "Parental choice selects for ornamental plumage in American Coot chicks". Nature 371 (6494): 240–242. doi:10.1038/371240a0. 
  30. ^ Brisbin, Jr., I. Lehr; Mowbray, Thomas B.; Poole, A.; Gill, F. (2002). "American Coot (Fulica americana)". In Poole, A; Gill, F. The Birds of North America Online. doi:10.2173/bna.697a. 
  31. ^ Horst, Gerald. "Chuck Buckley's Duck (Coot) Gumbo". Louisiana Sportsman. Retrieved 11 July 2013. 
  32. ^ "Toledo Mudhens". Minor League Baseball. Retrieved 11 July 2013. 

Cited sources[edit]

  • Jobling, James A. (2009). Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London, UK: Christopher Helm. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4. 
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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

Comments: Includes Andean Fulica ardesiaca, which sometimes has been treated as a separate species. Possibly conspecific with F. caribaea (AOU 1983, Banks 1995). Hawaiian population was regarded as a distinct species (F. alai) by Pratt et al. (1987).

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