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Coots can be found in large numbers, along numerous waterways up and down the country.

Single adult coot standing in water

Most people are familiar with this round-bodied and black-feathered bird. However, its close resemblance to a duck, especially while swimming, means that the coot is often not recognised as a bird in its own right.

The coot (Fulica atra) occupies similar habitats to its smaller cousin, the moorhen. It prefers shallow, still or slow-moving water, including reservoirs, canals, rivers, ponds and lakes. Passers-by can easily tell the coot from other water birds by way of its distinctive black plumage, white bill and white 'frontal shield'.

These sociable birds usually live in flocks and feed together. Although coots can also be very territorial and will aggressively chase off any unwanted intruders.

Coots are not graceful creatures. They take off by running along the water, in a flurry of flapping and splashing, and their underwater dives to obtain food are rather clumsily executed. Thankfully, they have a natural cork-like buoyancy and soon bob back to the surface to consume their catch. At feeding times you may hear the coots emit some explosive 'pitts' noises. A sound rather like a hammer striking an anvil. This is due to the coots' quarrelsome habit of stealing food from one another.

Hear what a coot's call sounds like

Coot facts

Appearance: All black or charcoal grey apart from a white bill and frontal shield. Legs and feet are large and grey with lobed toes

Size: 36-42cm

Weight: 700-900g

Lifespan: Maximum 18 years

Diet: Small aquatic animals, insect larvae and pondweed. Coots may also graze on waterside grass

Family: Rallidae

Family nature guide 2019

Download your free nature guide

Identify footprints and read fascinating facts about the creatures who make their homes along our canals and rivers

Last Edited: 12 November 2020

photo of a location on the canals
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