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American Coot

Fulica americana

The American coot is a dark, duck-like bird with a white bill. (Mdf/Wikimedia Commons)
The American coot is a dark, duck-like bird with a white bill. (Mdf/Wikimedia Commons)

The American coot is a dark, duck-like bird with a white bill. It visits the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers, creeks and wetlands from autumn through spring.


The American coot grows to 16 inches in length. It has red eyes, a white, chicken-like bill with black on the tip and a red area on its forehead. It has a dark, grayish-black body with white patches under the tail. Its legs are greenish or yellowish, and it has large feet with lobed toes.


Found on the fresh and brackish waters of the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers, creeks, wetlands and marshes; also lives on open lakes, ponds and reservoirs. It will often form flocks on the water.


Visit the Chesapeake Bay watershed from autumn through spring. Found both inland and near the shore. In spring, they migrate to their western and northern breeding grounds.


The American coot feeds mostly on bay grasses such as redhead grass, sago pondweed and wild celery. They will also eat small fish, insects and invertebrates. An American coot will feed by diving for food in deeper waters or “tipping up” its tail and submerging its head underwater in shallow waters.


Ospreys and bald eagles prey upon coots.


The coot makes short croaks, clucks and cackles that sound like kuk-kuk-kuk.

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

This bird does not breed in the Bay region; it breeds in the Midwestern and western United States and in southwestern Canada. It can live to 9 years old.

Other Facts:

  • Although they look like ducks, coots are actually a type of rail.
  • A coot can be easily identified by its strange behavior of bobbing its head back and forth while swimming.
  • American coots are better adapted to living in the water than many other birds.

Sources and Additional Information:


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