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American Coot

Fulica americana

Length: 15 inches Wingspan: 25 inches Seasonality: Summer
ID Keys: Gray body with darker head, thick white bill, reddish eye

American Coot - Fulica americana The American Coot is a very common summer resident, found in flocks on marshes and sloughs throughout the state.  A very adaptable bird, American Coots may also be seen waddling awkwardly in fields and lawns adjacent to water bodies.  They are not graceful fliers either, requiring a long "running" start to get airborne, pattering their feet on the surface of the water.


Marshes and sloughs, preferably those that also have adjacent open water.  Also may feed on dry land.


Omnivorous, eating aquatic plants, grasses, seeds, insects, earthworms, small fish, tadpoles, snails, eggs, and fruits and berries. 


Feeds both in the water and on land.  In the water, they may act like dabbling ducks, upending in shallow water, or may dive underwater.  They will also readily forage on land near water bodies.


May through July.  The nest of an American Coot is a floating nest of wetland vegetation such as bulrushes and cattails.  The female lays between 4 and 11 eggs, and both parents help to incubate them.  When the eggs hatch, the young leave the nest within hours, following the parents who feed them.  The young fledge after about 7 weeks.


American Coots have a variety of vocalizations, including various grunts and croaks and a whiny kee-cue, kee-cue.

Interactive eBird Map:

Click to access an interactive eBird map of American Coot sightings


Summers throughout much of North America.  Northern populations migrate south in the winter (including those in South Dakota). However, they do often tend to stay late into the fall, and arrive relatively early in the spring.

Similar Species:

American Coots can be differentiate from the waterfowl and other birds they tend to hang around due to their unique structure, and basic black plumage with unique light bill.  However, they could potentially be confused with the following species:

Common Moorhen - Gallinula chloropus Common Moorhen - Gallinula chloropus Purple Gallinule - Porphyrio martinicus
Common Gallinule Common Gallinule Purple Gallinule

Conservation Status:

American Coot populations have declined throughout much of their former range due to habitat loss, and that loss is evidently still continuing, as systematic surveys in recent decades continue to show modest declines.  However, they are still common to abundant where habitat is available.  The IUCN lists the American Coot as a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information:

Photo Information:

May 27th, 2007 - Atkin's Slough in Lincoln County, South Dakota - Terry Sohl

Additional Photos:

Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution American Coot photos.

Audio File Credits:

Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Range Map - American Coot
South Dakota Status: Common summer resident throughout the state.  Rare in winter.
Additional American Coot Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
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