The Eurasian coot is sometimes mistaken for a duck but is in fact a wading bird with splayed toes as opposed to webbed feet. When foraging for food under the water ducks will eat their food whilst still submerged whereas coots will surface first and then eat. There are four sub-species of the Eurasian coot and eleven separate coot species.
The adult male Eurasian coot has a deep black coloured head and neck with a paler dark grey body. The secondary flight feathers have white tips giving a pale back edge to the inner wing easily visible during flight. The eye is a prominent deep red in colour and the bill is white and extends from the base of the upper mandible into a white facial shield between the eyes and on to the forehead. This is similar in style to the red face shield of the smaller Common Moorhen, also known as a Eurasian Moorhen. The coot’s legs are yellow and grey and its feet are large and pale grey with toes which are almost bulbous and are technically known as being ‘lobate’. The adult female is similar to the male but generally marginally smaller although both are relatively heavily built in comparison to their overall size. Juveniles are more of a brownish grey hue overall with a greyish white throat and underparts and a yellowy bill.
Eurasian Coot perched on a rock
Coots can appear quarrelsome and combative and males will often call with a sharp metallic click of a sound sometimes repeated with a noise similar to ‘kick’ or ‘kick – kick’.
Eurasian Coot call
Susanne Kuijpers, XC642226. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/642226.
Coot in flight
Tadpoles, snails and other small aquatic creatures are eaten but more commonly the coot has a predominantly vegetarian diet of aquatic plants, algae and grasses taken from the waters surface or adjacent land. The bird dives easily to forage at the bottom of fresh water lakes or reservoirs bobbing back up to the surface to eat its catch.
Coot swimming in water
Eurasian Coots are widespread throughout Europe and can be found extending eastwards into India, Sri Lanka and central Asia, Indonesia, New Guinea, New Zealand, Tasmania and Australia. They are also found in the north Atlantic islands of the Azores and the Canaries and along the coast of North Africa. Whilst many Eurasian coots are resident all year, those found in northern and eastern Europe migrate during the winter months to sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia.
A pair of Coots fighting during mating season
The Eurasian coot is mainly a fresh water wading bird that prefers relatively shallow large open lakes, reservoirs, ponds and gravel pits with static or slow moving water. Out of the breeding season in the winter they will also choose salt water estuaries and inshore seawater. As well as foraging for food at the bottom of lakes and ponds coots can also be found grazing on grasses along nearby shores. The white bill and facial shield are a unique reference for identification in addition to some fairly unusual feet and loud short vocalisations.
Nests are built by the male and female and constructed of reeds, leaves, roots and twigs and normally built in water from the ground upwards close to surrounding vegetation or overhanging tree branches. Less common are floating nests. One brood, occasionally two, consisting of between 6 – 10 eggs is produced, dependent upon location in the northern hemisphere between March to September (apart from India where the season is November to December) and between August to February in the southern hemisphere. Eggs are incubated by both parents for twenty one to twenty six days and fledging occurs an average of fifty five to sixty days after hatching.
Coot with chicks in nest
Juvenile Eurasian Coot
Life expectancy for a Eurasian coot is up to fifteen years.
Family:Rails, crakes and coots
36cm to 38cm
70cm to 80cm
600g to 900g
Western swamphens are also sometimes known as purple western swamphens or purple gallinules (not to be confused with the American purple gallinule, native to North America). A relative of the moorhen, the species was first confirmed in the UK in 2016, and added to the British Birds list the following year. Sightings remain extremely rare and unusual.
Found at freshwater wetlands, water rails are elusive birds, inhabiting reeds and rushes at the fringes of lakes and ponds. Slightly smaller than the related moorhen and coot, Water Rails are resident in the UK all year round, and numbers increase with the arrival of migrating birds each autumn.
Often confused for the similar wetland inhabitant the water rail, spotted crakes are rare visitors to the UK, and are notoriously hard to spot as they prefer to remain hidden within densely vegetated marshes and sedge beds.
The Moorhen is a common and colourful waterbird, found everywhere from city ponds to countryside wetlands.
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