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American Coot

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American Coots prove that not everything that looks and acts like a duck is a duck. They spend most of their time on the water, often in the company of other waterfowl, but they lack webbed feet, their bills are more of a beak, and their voice is more of a cluck than a quack.

• Length: 15.5 inches
• Wingspan: 24 inches
• Season: Year-round
More about American Coots.
Where they are, and when.

Except for their bright white bills, dark brownish-red forehead and a small white tuft near their tail, they are completely black. They don’t fly much, because their wings are short and even getting airborne is a chore. When taking off, they look like they’re desperately trying to walk on water – beating their wings and splashing ahead for quite a while before awkwardly taking off.

Coots are mostly vegetarian, dabbling and diving for a smorgasbord of algae, duckweed and other aquatic plants, but insects, crustaceans and other watery fauna are on the menu, too.

Coots built their nests as shallow floating baskets attached to adjacent vegetation. Their eggs are pinkish or gray with dark speckles, and there may be anywhere from eight to a dozen in the nest.

February 16, 2013

When something is common and not particularly striking, it tends to fade into the background, and that has happened to me with Coots. They don’t have the iridescent plumage of their cousin the Purple Gallinule, nor the bright red and yellow mask of the Moorhen. They don’t have the cach&#233 of being uncommon. They’re everywhere. There were dozens today on the ponds and sloughs at Brazos Bend State Park. Even hunters seem to have lost interest. But their ubiquity may be their virtue. On a day when I’m seeing few other birds, I can still watch a coot try to fly.

About Scott Clark

I’m a digital journalist who’s worked as a photographer, reporter, producer and editor. My interest in the natural history of my surroundings reaches back to my early days beachcombing on the Jersey coast, rowing my boat on a quiet lake in Missouri and, more recently, discovering the mountains and backwoods of Montana, where I was born.

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