Saturday, 2 February 2013

American Coot

order : Gruiformes      Genus & Species : Rallidae     Family : Fulica americana

Unlike its elusive rail relatives, the American coot is often seen gracefully swimming in open water and commonly heard defending its territory against invaders. With its lobed feet and swimming ability, the coot resembles a duck, but is actually the most aquatic member of the rail family. They found in Canada, from British Columbia east to southern Ontario and Quebec and Nova Scotia, south through the U.S. and Mexico to Panama, the West Indies, Costa Rica and Hawaii.

Habitat : The American coot frequents both fresh- and saltwater. It lives in wetland areas such as rice fields, backwaters, reed-fringed ponds and lakes, open marshes, sluggish rivers and streams, as well as estuaries and bays. During its migrations, the coot is often seen far inland, often at ponds in parks or golf courses. In winter, the American coot is one of the most abundant birds in both North and South Carolina. 

Food & Feeding : Though the American coot obtains most of its plant food by dabbling on the water’s surface, the bird also dives and up-ends in water and even grazes on land. Seeds, roots and leaves of pondweeds, water milfoil, burweed, smartweed and banana water lily are favorites, but the bird also eats wild celery as well as sprouting and waste grain. The coot snatches up aquatic animals, including insects, fish, snails and tadpoles. Waterfowl, such as canvasbacks or mallards, often stir up these animals, as well as aquatic plants, while swimming or diving, and the coot follows in their wake. This high–protein animal food is especially important in the diet of a growing coot chick. 
Behavior : The American coot is extremely noisy and its wetland haunts are often filled with a bustling medley of various calls. Pairs emit a kuk-kuk-kuk-kuk call or coo-coo-coo-coo day and night. Both the herring gull and the black-backed gull prey upon the American coot, and the bird’s calls warn others in the flock of impending danger from attack by such predators. The coot is extremely aggressive during the breeding season — it staunchly defends its territory against invasions, especially by other members of its species. It uses a combination of distinctive postural displays and attacks, including the “splatter attack,” in which the coot charges at an intruder, splashing water with its wings.When taking flight, the ungraceful coot taxies for some distance, flapping its wings and noisily kicking and spraying water. When an entire flock rises from the water in this fashion, it sounds like a heavy hail or rainstorm. Although the birds have difficulty taking off, they fly for great distances; some birds migrate all the way from Canada to Panama each fall. 
Breeding : The American coot migrates north from February through May and begins nesting within two weeks of its arrival. However, some birds remain year-round in parts of the U.S. Courtship displays include increased calling and a bowing and nibbling ritual, in which one coot remains still while the other preens its feathers. Coots are monogomous; they mate on land or on their platform nests, which are built by both sexes from reeds, grasses and cattails. The female usually lays about 9–10 eggs with dark-brown spots, and the pair takes turns incubating the eggs for 21–25 days.The chicks are covered with down and are able to swim and dive soon after hatching, but they return to the nest for frequent brooding and are fed by the parents for two weeks, becoming independent over the next 5–8 weeks. Nesting success is usually over 80%, mainly due to the parents’ steadfast defense of the nest throughout courtship, incubation and fledging. 

Bill : The coot’s white, chickenlike bill has a smooth, horny projection extending from the base of the bill onto the forehead. This frontal shield has a dark, red-brown callus at the top that sometimes covers the entire shield during breeding. 
Eyes : With its sharp sense of sight, a coot can spot food underwater.The red eyes contrast with its dark plumage. 
Plumage : Coots blend into their marsh grass habitats; their heads and necks are dull black while the rest of the body is slate gray. 
Feet : The lobes on the feet flare out to propel the bird on the backstroke and flatten back for less drag on the forward stroke.The toes’ sharp claws are fierce weapons.

Weight : Male 20–30 oz.; female 15–22 oz. 
Length : 13-17" 
Wingspan : 24-27.5" 
Sexual Maturity : 1 year
Breeding Season : April–July 

An American coot’s age is revealed by its vibrant tarsal (foot) color: green at 1 year, yellow-green at 2 years, yellow at 3 and orange-red at 4 or older.

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