Coot

Fulica atra

36-38cm

Appearance

A portly waterbird who swims with a nodding of the head. The sexes are similar. The plumage is all dark with a slate-black sheen, and is darkest on the head and neck. The legs are pale yellow, the bill is white and it has a white frontal shield between the red eyes. When flying, the inner wings have a white trailing edge, and the legs trail beyond the tail. Juveniles are greyish-brown with a whitish face and throat.

Habitat

Favours lakes, reservoirs, flooded gravel pits and large, slow-flowing rivers for breeding, though urban lakes are also an option. Flocks gather on larger water expanses in winter, sometimes even on the sea.

Character

Most often seen in flocks which associate with other waterbirds and swans and pick up the scraps from larger birds. It upends to feed, or makes shallow dives; also grazes on short grass. It skitters across the water for a long time before taking off. During the breeding season, territorial fights often break out.

Food

Has a diverse diet of both animals and plant material, including algae, pondweeds, duckweeds, bulrush, hornwort and young grasses, freshwater mussels, water snails, larvae of flies, moths and beetles.

Breeding

Majority of nests are formed amidst reeds and vegetation, though some nests are built free of any protection, exposed. Nesting starts at the end of April; the female lays 5-7 eggs and both parents incubate them for 21-24 days. Male provides food for the initial 3-4 days while the female broods, then the brood is divided between parents. Young are fed for about 30 days; they fly after about 55 days. Multiple broods (two or three) may be raised in one summer.

Population

Many birds remain in the region for the whole year. Approximately 31 000 pairs breed in the UK and up to 10 000 in Ireland. Coots in the north and east of Europe often migrate to Britain, increasing winter populations to over 200 000 birds.

Observation Tips

There shouldn't be too many challenges in observing this bird. Adults with their chicks are a lovely sight in the late spring, though the birds are in their largest numbers during the winter.

Voice

A single 'kwoot' is the most commonly heard call.
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