Coot (Fulica atra)

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Coot, close up on water
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Coot fact file

Coot description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderGruiformes
FamilyRallidae
GenusFulica (1)

The coot (Fulica atra), Britain's largest rail species (5), is a plump water bird; it has a greyish body, a black head, and a white bill, above which there is a prominent white 'frontal shield' (2). The saying 'as bald as a coot' refers to this frontal plate, as do a number of local names for the species, including 'bald coot' and 'white-faced diver' (6). Juveniles have whitish areas on the sides of the head, breast and fore neck; the rest of the body is brownish-grey. The young are covered in black down and have red and blue markings on the head (2). Coots produce a variety of vocalisations, including a loud 'kowk', and a sharp 'pitts' (2).

French
Foulque macroule.
Size
Length: 36-42 cm (2)
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Coot biology

The coot feeds on pondweeds and invertebrates (5); it dives rather clumsily to obtain food, and returns to the surface rapidly thanks to its cork-like buoyancy (7). Unlike ducks, coots bring their food to the surface before eating it; this results in frequent cases of food stealing (5). They are opportunistic birds, and may feed in grasslands at certain times of the year (7). During winter, large flocks may gather on large lakes and reservoirs (9), these gatherings are relatively peaceful compared to the fierce territorial aggression seen during the breeding season (2).

The nest, a mound of dead reeds, is usually built amongst emergent vegetation (7). From mid-March, between six and nine speckled eggs are laid (occasionally up to 15 eggs, though these large clutches may be laid by more than one female (9)). The eggs are incubated by both parents for up to 24 days (7). The chicks leave the nest a few days after hatching, and reach independence at around eight weeks of age (7). Two broods are produced a year, but occasionally a third brood may occur (7).

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Coot range

Widespread and common throughout Britain, but absent from hilly areas and most parts of northern and western Scotland (7). Elsewhere, the coot is found in Europe, northern Africa, the Middle East, through Eurasia, reaching as far east as the Pacific coast of China and Japan. It is also found in Australasia, south-east Asia, and India (8).

You can view distribution information for this species at the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.
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Coot habitat

The coot is found in most shallow, still or slow-moving freshwater habitats including ponds, lakes, rivers, marshes, gravel pits and reservoirs (7).

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Coot status

The coot is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1). Receives general protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 (3). Included in the Birds of Conservation Concern Green List (low conservation concern) (4).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern

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Coot threats

The coot is not threatened; in fact the population has increased somewhat since the 1970s (10).

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Coot conservation

The coot receives general protection in Britain under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981. A number of populations occur in Special Protection Areas (8).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
There may be further information about this species available via the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.
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Find out more

For more information on the coot and other bird species:

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Authentication

Information authenticated by the RSPB:
http://www.rspb.org.uk/

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Glossary

Incubate
To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
Invertebrates
Animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones), echinoderms, and others.
Territorial
Describes an animal, a pair of animals or a colony that occupies and defends an area.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2011)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Mullarney, K., Svensson, L., Zetterstrom, D., & Grant, P.J. (1999) Collins Bird Guide. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, London.
  3. Environment Agency (1998) Species and Habitats Handbook- 'Look-up' chart of species and their legal status. Environment Agency, Peterborough.
  4. RSPB (2003) The population status of birds in the UK:
    http://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/5_20625.pdf
  5. Lack, P. (1986) The Atlas of Wintering Birds in Britain and Ireland. T. & A. D. Poyser Ltd, Calton.
  6. Greenoak, F. (1979) All the birds of the air. Book Club Associates, London.
  7. Gooders, J. (1982) Collins British Birds. William Collins Sons and Co Ltd, London.
  8. JNCC (November 2002):
    http://www.jncc.gov.uk/UKSPA/Species/accounts/A6-55.pdf
  9. RSPB (2003) Pers. comm.
  10. BTO Breeding birds in the wider countryside (November 2002):
    http://www.bto.org/birdtrends/wcrcoot.htm
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Image credit

Coot, close up on water  
Coot, close up on water

© Brian Bevan / www.ardea.com

Ardea wildlife pets environment
59 Tranquil Vale
London
SE3 0BS
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 208 318 1401
ardea@ardea.co.uk
http://www.ardea.com

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