Bird’s ID – American Coot
The American Coot (Fulica americana), also known as a mud hen, is a bird of the family Rallidae. Though commonly mistaken for ducks, American coots are only distantly related to ducks, belonging to a separate order. Unlike the webbed feet of ducks, coots have broad, lobed scales on their lower legs and toes that fold back with each step in order to facilitate walking on dry land. Coots live near water, typically inhabiting wetlands and open water bodies in North America. Groups of coots are called covers or rafts. The oldest known coot lived to be 22 years old.
The American coot is a migratory bird that occupies most of North America. It lives in the Pacific and southwestern United States and Mexico year-round and occupies more northeastern regions during the summer breeding season. In the winter they can be found as far south as Panama.Coots generally build floating nests and lay 8–12 eggs per clutch. Females and males have similar appearances, but they can be distinguished during aggressive displays by the larger ruff (head plumage) on the male. American coots eat primarily algae and other aquatic plants but also animals (both vertebrates and invertebrates) when available.
The American coot measures 34–43 cm (13–17 in) in length and 58–71 cm (23–28 in) across the wings. Adults have a short, thick, white bill and white frontal shield, which usually has a reddish-brown spot near the top of the bill between the eyes. Males and females look alike, but females are smaller. Body mass in females ranges from 427 to 628 g (0.941 to 1.385 lb) and in males from 576 to 848 g (1.270 to 1.870 lb). Juvenile birds have olive-brown crowns and a gray body. They become adult-colored around 4 months of age.
The American coot can dive for food but can also forage and scavenge on land. Their principal source of food is aquatic vegetation, especially algae. Yet they are omnivorous, also eating arthropods, fish, and other aquatic animals. During breeding season, coots are more likely to eat aquatic insects and mollusks—which constitute the majority of a chick’s diet.