Caribbean coot (Fulica caribaea)

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Adult Caribbean coot swimming
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Caribbean coot fact file

Caribbean coot description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderGruiformes
FamilyRallidae
GenusFulica (1)

A rather striking member of the rail family (Rallidae), the Caribbean coot (Fulica caribaea) is a wetland bird with a bright white beak which contrasts sharply with its dark plumage. The body of the Caribbean coot is greyish-black overall, with a black head and neck and slightly paler underparts (2) (3). The undertail-coverts are white (2) (3), and the wings have a white leading edge and narrow whitish tips to the secondary feathers (2).

Like other coots, the Caribbean coot has a prominent fleshy protuberance, known as a ‘frontal shield’, extending from the beak onto the forehead. In this species, the frontal shield is white, sometimes with a yellowish tinge, and extends well up onto the crown of the head (2) (3).

The Caribbean coot’s bill is also white, and may have a reddish-brown mark or band near the tip. The eyes of this species are red and its legs and feet are dull yellowish to yellowish-green (2). Like other coots, the Caribbean coot has unusual, lobed toes (2).

Although the male and female Caribbean coot are similar in appearance, the female is usually slightly smaller than the male (2). The juvenile is paler than the adult, being a more uniform grey (2) (3).

There is contention over whether the Caribbean coot is a true species or rather a subspecies of the American coot (Fulica americana) (2) (4). The two are virtually identical in appearance, the only distinguishing feature being that the American coot typically, but not always, has a smaller white frontal shield that often has a dark reddish callus at the top (2). Furthermore, the Caribbean coot and American coot have been observed to interbreed in the wild, leading some scientists to propose that they simply represent a single species which varies in its frontal shield (5) (6).

The Caribbean coot produces a variety of croaking, cackling and clucking calls which are indistinguishable from those of the American coot (2) (3).

Size
Length: 33 - 38 cm (2)
Weight
c. 650 g (2)
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Caribbean coot biology

The Caribbean coot can breed year-round, but nesting may peak from April to June and September to November in some areas (3). In the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Caribbean coot has been recorded breeding between December and May after particularly heavy rains (6). Relatively little information is available on the breeding behaviour of the Caribbean coot, but it is likely to be similar to that of the closely related American coot, in which males become territorial during the breeding season, fighting over territories and displaying extensively to attract females (4).

The nest of the Caribbean coot is usually a platform of vegetation, built a short way from shore and with its rim rising just above the water (6). It may float among emergent vegetation (3), or may sometimes be built in a partially submerged woody plant such as a mangrove (6).

The female Caribbean coot typically lays between four and nine eggs (3) (6), which are pale olive-buff with fine dark spots (3). As in the American coot, the eggs are likely to be incubated by both adults for around 22 days (4). At hatching, coot chicks typically have oversized-looking feet and black down, and are able to leave the nest and dive shortly after hatching (4). The young Caribbean coots become fully grown and independent from the adults at around 60 to 70 days old (6).

Like other coots, the Caribbean coot feeds predominantly on aquatic vegetation, which it often obtains by diving underwater (2) (3). However, like the American coot, it is not likely to be strictly herbivorous and may also eat aquatic insects, grasshoppers, tadpoles, snails and small fish (4). This species typically occurs in flocks (3).

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Caribbean coot range

As its common name suggests, the Caribbean coot is widespread throughout the Caribbean, occurring in the southern Bahamas, the Greater Antilles, and the Lesser Antilles south to Barbados and Grenada. It also occurs in northern Venezuela (2) (3) (7).

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Caribbean coot habitat

This water bird predominantly inhabits wetlands such as freshwater lakes, ponds and marshes, but it can also inhabit brackish coastal water bodies (2) (3) (7). It occurs in lowlands up to elevations of about 500 metres (7).

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Caribbean coot status

The Caribbean coot is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Near Threatened

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Caribbean coot threats

Hunting by humans and drainage of wetland habitats pose the greatest threats to the Caribbean coot (3) (7). The eggs of this species are also sometimes collected for local consumption (3) (7), while introduced predators and pollution potentially pose further threats to its populations (7).

While precise data is lacking, the population of the Caribbean coot is believed to be undergoing a significant decline (7).

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Caribbean coot conservation

There are no specific conservation actions currently underway for the Caribbean coot. However, a number of measures have been proposed to address this species’ decline and the threats it faces. These include conducting a thorough population survey throughout its range and monitoring its population at key sites (7).

It will also be important to conduct public education campaigns discouraging drainage of the Caribbean coot’s wetland habitat and the hunting of this and other wetland birds. Alternatives to taking eggs and adults from the wild should be considered (7), and an increase in active protection of this species and its habitat is also required (8).

Small, man-made water bodies can be important sites for the Caribbean coot, so habitat management and protection for this species should focus not just on large wetlands but also on series of smaller ponds (8).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Find out more

Find out more about the Caribbean coot and its conservation:

More information on bird conservation in the Caribbean:

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Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

This species information was authored as part of the ARKive and Universities Scheme.
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Glossary

Brackish
Slightly salty water, usually a mixture of salt and freshwater, such as that found in estuaries.
Coverts
Small feathers concealing the bases of larger flight feathers, usually on the wings or tail.
Emergent
Aquatic plants whose stems and leaves extend beyond the water’s surface.
Herbivorous
Having a diet that comprises only vegetable matter.
Incubate
To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
Secondary feathers
The shorter flight feathers projecting along the inner edge of a bird’s wing.
Subspecies
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
Territorial
Describes an animal, a pair of animals or a colony that occupies and defends an area.
Territory
An area occupied and defended by an animal, a pair of animals or a colony.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (July, 2011)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Taylor, B. and van Perlo, B. (1998) Rails: A Guide to the Rails, Crakes, Gallinules and Coots of the World. A&C Black Publishers, London.
  3. Latta, S., Rimmer, C., Keith, A., Wiley, J., Raffaele, H., McFarland, K. and Fernandez, E. (2006) Birds of the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.
  4. Nellis, D.W. (2001) Common Coastal Birds of Florida & the Caribbean. Pineapple Press, Sarasota, Florida.
  5. Clark, C. T. (1985) Caribbean Coot? Birding, 17: 84-88.
  6. McNair, D.B. and Cramer-Burke, C. (2006) Breeding ecology of American and Caribbean coots at Southgate Pond, St. Croix: use of woody vegetation. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, 118(2): 208-217.
  7. BirdLife International - Caribbean coot (July, 2011)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=2947
  8. Nijman, V. (2010) The importance of small wetlands for the conservation of the endemic Caribbean coot Fulica caribaea. Caribbean Journal of Science, 46(1): 112-115.
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Image credit

Adult Caribbean coot swimming  
Adult Caribbean coot swimming

© Michael J Morel

Michael J Morel
mjmorel@aol.com

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