Eurasian coot

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Eurasian coot
Fulica atra, Blässhuhn am Adenauer-Weiher.jpg
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Gruiformes
Family: Rallidae
Genus: Fulica
F. atra
Binomial name
Fulica atra
FulicaAtraIUCN2019 2.png
Range of F. atra     Breeding      Resident      Non-breeding      Vagrant (seasonality uncertain)
  • Fulica aterrima Linnaeus, 1766
  • Fulica prior De Vis, 1888[2]

The Eurasian coot (Fulica atra), also known as the common coot,[3][4][5] or Australian coot, is a member of the rail and crake bird family, the Rallidae. It is found in Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and parts of Africa.

Taxonomy and systematics[edit]

The scientific name is from Latin; Fulica is "coot", and atra is "black".[6] Four extant subspecies are recognised. F. atra australis which can be found in Australia and New Zealand, F. a. novaeguineae (New Guinea), F. a. lugubris (E Java (possibly extinct) and NW New Guinea) and F. a. atra (remainder of distribution).[7]. A further extinct subspecies F. atra pontica, has been described from the Chalcolithic (around 4800-4400 BP) from the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast.[8]


The Eurasian coot is 32–42 cm (13–17 in) long and weighs 585–1,100 g (1.290–2.425 lb),[9] and is largely black except for the white frontal shield (which gave rise to the phrase "as bald as a coot", in use as early as 1430).[10] As a swimming species, the coot has partial webbing on its long strong toes.

The juvenile is paler than the adult, has a whitish breast, and lacks the facial shield; the adult black plumage develops when about 3–4 months old, but the white shield is only fully developed at about one year old.

This is a noisy bird with a wide repertoire of crackling, explosive, or trumpeting calls, often given at night.

Distribution and habitat[edit]

An adult and a baby coot

The coot breeds across much of the Old World on freshwater lakes and ponds. It occurs and breeds in Europe, Asia, Australia, and Africa. The species has recently expanded its range into New Zealand. It is resident in the milder parts of its range, but migrates further south and west from much of Asia in winter as the waters freeze.

Behaviour and ecology[edit]


The Eurasian coot is much less secretive than most of the rail family, and can be seen swimming on open water or walking across waterside grasslands. It is an aggressive species, and strongly territorial during the breeding season, and both parents are involved in territorial defence.[11] During the non-breeding season they may form large flocks, possibly related to predator avoidance.[12]

It is reluctant to fly and when taking off runs across the water surface with much splashing. It does the same, but without actually flying, when travelling a short distance at speed in territorial disputes or on land to escape from intruders. As with many rails, its weak flight does not inspire confidence, but on migration, usually at night, it can cover surprisingly large distances. It bobs its head as it swims, and makes short dives from a little jump.


Eggs, Collection Museum Wiesbaden, Germany

This species builds a nest of dead reeds or grasses, but also pieces of paper or plastic near the water's edge or on underwater obstacles protruding from the water, laying up to 10 eggs, sometimes 2 or 3 times per season. Usually only a few young survive. They are frequent prey for birds such as herons and gulls.

Chick mortality occurs mainly due to starvation rather than predation. Most chicks died 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. They will bite young that are begging for food and repeatedly do this until it stops begging and starves to death. If the begging continues, they may bite so hard that the chick is killed.[14] Coots will also lay their eggs in the nests of other coots when their environment or physical condition limits their ability to breed, or to lengthen their reproductive life.[13]


Chick picking through wet leaves in Sweden

The coot is an omnivore, and will take a variety of small live prey including the eggs of other water birds, as well as algae, vegetation, seeds and fruit.[15] It shows considerable variation in its feeding techniques, grazing on land or in the water. In the water it may upend in the fashion of a mallard or dive in search of food.[16]


The Eurasian coot is one of the species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) applies.


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2012). "Fulica atra". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN. 2012. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
  2. ^ Condon, H.T. (1975). Checklist of the Birds of Australia: Non-Passerines. Melbourne: Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union. p. 57.
  3. ^ "Feet of the Common Coot". Bird Ecology Study Group. July 11, 2008. Retrieved December 19, 2017.
  4. ^ "Common Coot". Retrieved December 19, 2017.
  5. ^ "Common Coot (Fulica atra) movements" (PDF). Retrieved December 19, 2017.
  6. ^ Jobling, James A (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. pp. 58, 165. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  7. ^ "Common Coot | Handbook of the Birds of the World". Handbook of the Birds of the World.
  8. ^ Boev, Z.; Karaivanova, E. (1998). "Fulica atra pontica subsp. n. from the Middle Holocene on the South Black Sea Coast, Bulgaria". Historia naturalis bulgarica. 9: 53–69.
  9. ^ Dunning, John B. Jr., ed. (1992). CRC Handbook of Avian Body Masses. CRC Press. ISBN 978-0-8493-4258-5.
  10. ^ "Coot". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  11. ^ Cavé, A.J.; Visser, J.; Perdeck, A.C. (1989). "Size and quality of the Coot (Fulica atra) territory in relation to age of its tenants and neighbours" (PDF). Ardea. 77: 87–97.
  12. ^ van den Hout, P.J. (2006). "Dense foraging flotillas of Eurasian coots Fulica atra explained by predation by Ganges soft-shell turtle Aspideretus gangeticus?" (PDF). Ardea. 94 (2): 271–274. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-06-10. Retrieved 2015-06-10.
  13. ^ a b "This Coot has a Secret! - NatureOutside". 20 June 2015.
  14. ^ Attenborough, David (16 December 1998). "The Problems of Parenthood". The Life of Birds. Episode 9. 12 minutes in. BBC One.
  15. ^ Martin R., Perrow; Schutten, J. Hans; Howes, John R.; Holzer, Tim; Madgwick, F. Jane; Jowitt, Adrian J.D. (1997). "Interactions between coot (Fulica atra) and submerged macrophytes: the role of birds in the restoration process". Hydrobiologia. 342/343: 241–255. doi:10.1023/A:1017007911190.
  16. ^ Bakker, Brigitte J.; Fordham, Robin A. (1993). "Diving behaviour of the Australian coot in a New Zealand lake" (PDF). Notornis. 40 (2): 131–136.

External links[edit]