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Temporal range: Early Pliocene to present
Eurasian coot (Fulica atra)
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Gruiformes
Family: Rallidae
Genus: Fulica
Linnaeus, 1758
Type species
Fulica atra (Eurasian coot)
Linnaeus, 1758

For extinct and prehistoric species, see article text

Coots are medium-sized water birds that are members of the rail family, Rallidae. They constitute the genus Fulica, the name being the Latin term for "coot". Coots have predominantly black plumage, and—unlike many rails—they are usually easy to see, often swimming in open water.

Taxonomy and systematics[edit]

The genus Fulica was introduced in 1758 by the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus in the tenth edition of his Systema Naturae.[1] The genus name is the Latin word for a Eurasian coot.[2] The name was used by the Swiss naturalist Conrad Gessner in 1555.[3] The type species is the Eurasian coot.[4]

A group of coots are referred to as a covert[5] or cover.[6]


The genus contains 10 extant species and one which is now extinct.[7]

Image Scientific name Common name Distribution
Fulica alai Peale, 1848 Hawaiian coot or ʻAlae keʻokeʻo Hawaii
Fulica americana Gmelin, 1789 American coot southern Quebec to the Pacific coast of North America and as far south as northern South America
Fulica ardesiaca Tschudi, 1843 Andean coot Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru
Fulica armillata Vieillot, 1817 red-gartered coot Argentina, southern Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay
Fulica atra Linnaeus, 1758 Eurasian coot or common coot Europe, Asia, Australia, and Africa
Fulica cornuta Bonaparte, 1853 horned coot Argentina, Bolivia, Chile
Fulica cristata Gmelin, 1789 red-knobbed coot Africa, Iberian Peninsula
Fulica gigantea Eydoux & Souleyet, 1841 giant coot Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Peru
Fulica leucoptera Vieillot, 1817 white-winged coot Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Falkland Islands, Paraguay, Uruguay
Fulica rufifrons Philppi & Landbeck, 1861 red-fronted coot Argentina, southern Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, southern Peru, Uruguay

Extinct species[edit]

Recently extinct species[edit]

Late Quaternary species[edit]

Fossil species[edit]


Coots have prominent frontal shields or other[which?] decoration on the forehead, with red to dark red eyes and coloured bills. Many have white on the under tail. The featherless shield gave rise to the expression "as bald as a coot",[9] which the Oxford English Dictionary cites in use as early as 1430. Like other rails, they have long, lobed toes that are well adapted to soft, uneven surfaces. Coots have strong legs and can walk and run vigorously. They tend to have short, rounded wings and are weak fliers, though northern species nevertheless can cover long distances. They typically congregate in large rafts in open water. They are socially gregarious and messy aquatic feeders. [citation needed]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The greatest species variety occurs in South America, and the genus likely originated there. They are common in Europe and North America.[10] Coot species that migrate do so at night. The American coot has been observed rarely in Britain and Ireland, while the Eurasian coot is found across Asia, Australia and parts of Africa. In southern Louisiana, the coot is referred to by the French name "poule d'eau", which translates into English as "water hen".[11]

Behaviour and ecology[edit]

Coots are omnivorous, eating mainly plant material, but also small animals, fish and eggs.[12] They are aggressively territorial during the breeding season, but are otherwise often found in sizeable flocks on the shallow vegetated lakes they prefer.

Chick mortality occurs mainly due to starvation rather than predation as coots have difficulty feeding a large family of hatchlings on the tiny shrimp and insects that they collect. Many chicks die in the first 10 days after hatching, when they are most dependent on adults for food.[13] Coots can be very brutal to their own young under pressure such as the lack of food, and after about three days they start attacking their own chicks when they beg for food. After a short while, these attacks concentrate on the weaker chicks, who eventually give up begging and die. The coot may eventually raise only two or three out of nine hatchlings.[14] In this attacking behaviour, the parents are said to "tousle" their young. This can result in the death of the chick.[15]


  1. ^ Linnaeus, Carl (1758). Systema Naturae per regna tria naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis (in Latin). Vol. 1 (10th ed.). Holmiae (Stockholm): Laurentii Salvii. p. 152.
  2. ^ Jobling, James A. (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. p. 165. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  3. ^ Gesner, Conrad (1555). Historiae animalium liber III qui est de auium natura. Adiecti sunt ab initio indices alphabetici decem super nominibus auium in totidem linguis diuersis: & ante illos enumeratio auium eo ordiné quo in hoc volumine continentur (in Latin). Zurich: Froschauer. p. 375.
  4. ^ Peters, James Lee, ed. (1934). Check-List of Birds of the World. Vol. 2. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. p. 211.
  5. ^ "What do you call a group of ...?". Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. Archived from the original on May 1, 2011. Retrieved 19 April 2011.
  6. ^ "Baltimore Bird Club. Group Name for Birds: A Partial List". Retrieved 2007-06-03.
  7. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David; Rasmussen, Pamela, eds. (July 2021). "Flufftails, finfoots, rails, trumpeters, cranes, limpkin". IOC World Bird List Version 11.2. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 19 August 2021.
  8. ^ Alarcón-Muñoz, Jhonatan; Labarca, Rafael; Soto-Acuña, Sergio (2020-12-01). "The late Pleistocene–early Holocene rails (Gruiformes: Rallidae) of Laguna de Tagua Tagua Formation, central Chile, with the description of a new extinct giant coot". Journal of South American Earth Sciences. 104: 102839. Bibcode:2020JSAES.10402839A. doi:10.1016/j.jsames.2020.102839. S2CID 225031984.
  9. ^ "Coot | The Wildlife Trusts". www.wildlifetrusts.org. Retrieved 2024-06-01.
  10. ^ Olson, Storrs L. (1974). "The Pleistocene Rails of North America." Museum of Natural History.
  11. ^ "American Coot".
  12. ^ Ornithology, British Trust for (2015-04-07). "Coot". BTO - British Trust for Ornithology. Retrieved 2024-06-01.
  13. ^ "This Coot has a Secret! - NatureOutside". 20 June 2015.
  14. ^ The Life of Birds, David Attenborough. The Problems of Parenthood. 10:20.
  15. ^ Clutton-Brock, TH., The Evolution of Parental Care, Princeton University Press, 1991 p. 203.

External links[edit]