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Photo by Tom Grey

Bird of the Month: American Coot

Become a bird expert! Every month we feature a different bird species of the San Francisco Bay Area. You can learn how to identify local birds and find out fun facts about our amazing feathered friends. Click on the pictures at the bottom of the page to learn about birds from previous months, and check back each month to see the latest species of interest!

Name: American Coot

Size: 12-15 inches

Wingspan: 25 inches

Diet: This bird eats mostly aquatic plants and algae, but will also eat some grasses and grains and occasionally even aquatic insects, mollusks and tadpoles.

Behavior: The American Coot feeds in water and on land, and is usually found in groups. While swimming, it moves its head in a constant back and forth motion and will dive for food. It grazes for food on land. When attempting to fly, the Coot must run over the surface of the water to build up speed before it becomes airborne.

Habitat: This bird is found near shallow freshwater such as lakes, ponds, and marshes, particularly those that have reeds and grasses growing along part of the shoreline.

Field Markings: Look for a plump, dark gray bird with a white bill and yellowish feet with large lobed toes.

Fun Facts: Unlike ducks, the American Coot doesn't have webbed feet. Instead each toe has lobes on either side.

Status: The American Coot population is strong.

Migratory Route: American Coots live year-round on the West Coast and in the South. Coots who breed in northern North American migrate to the Southern US and Central America to spend the winter.

Credits: All About Birds Online Bird Guide. Cornell Lab of Ornithology. April 16, 2006

Field Guide to the Birds of North America. 4th ed. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2002.

Brisbin, I. L., Jr., H. D. Pratt, and T. B. Mobray. 2002. American Coot (Fulica americana) and Hawaiian Coot (Fulica alai). In The Birds of North America, No. 697 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.

Gough, G.A., Sauer, J.R., Iliff, M. Patuxent Bird Identification Infocenter. 1998. Version 97.1. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD. June 27, 2006.