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The Coots are the birds which form the genus Fulica which is part of the Rallidae family.  There are generally accepted to be 11 different species of coot.

When used on its own, just the single word Coot normally refers to one particular species, the Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra).  The Coot is quite common. It extends from Central and Eastern Europe and North Africa to Asia and Siberia, and also inhabits Australia.

This bird has a black plumage, a white bill which is quite pointed, and a white head sheild on its forehead.  It reaches a length of around 38 cm. Male animals, identifiable by the larger head sheild, reach a weight of up to 600 grams.  The head shield itself is the origin of the unfortunate term "bald as a coot".  The females can attain a weight of up to 800 grams.

Coot picture

Coot picture

Coots are good at floating and diving in the waters.  They constantly and easily move between land and water.  Whilst on land they move a little awkwardly yet with a good measure of elegance.  On their feet extraordinary lobed membranes exist between their toes.  This feature is thought to aid in swimming, in addition to being helpful when walking over wet, muddy or slimy surfaces. They have a sure but somewhat heavy flight.

Their habitat is large ponds, lakes or rivers with very gently flowing waters.  A reed belt with many aquatic plants is preferred. Coots will search for their food both in and under the water, on the banks and, more rarely further inshore.  They feed upon aquatic plants and algae.  Small fish and other small animals, for example crustaceans, molluscs and insects also form part of  the diet.

The nest is built among reeds.  Alternatively a floating straw island is lain in the water, fixed to aquatic plants to ensure it does not float away with any current that may exist.  Three to twelve yellowish eggs are laid.  The female incubates these, helped by the male, over a period of 21 to 23 days.  The breeding's pair defends the area around the chicks and the nest during the time that the chicks are growing up.  The chicks are tended to in the nest for 55 to 60 days.  Initially the chicks are a grey-black with a reddish head, the young birds later having an almost white chest and no visible head shield.  After about 8 weeks the chicks are able to fly.

Similar to ducks, swans and sea gulls, with which it often shares the habitat, coots are not particularly shy of humans.  However they are birds of a timid and shrewd nature. Threatened by any danger, they all gather together beside each other in the water, and strike the water with the ends of their wings in an almost crazy fashion to try to scare away the enemy.

Those coots who live in colder regions migrate in winter towards the south.   Wintering takes place in groups on ice-free waters, together with other species of water birds.


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