All-black and larger than its cousin, the moorhen, the coot has a distinctive white beak and ‘shield’ above the beak which earns it the title ‘bald’.
The 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. During the non-breeding season they may form large flocks, possibly related to predator avoidance. Very common on lakes, ponds and rivers , the Common Coot has expanded its range to other countries and continents.
The Coot is omnivorous but mainly vegetarian. It primarily feeds on seeds and green parts of aquatic and some terrestrial plant species, algae, grasses and cereals. It also takes animal food such as worms, leeches, shrimps, molluscs, insects (adults and larvae) and spiders. It may take fish and fish-eggs, small frogs, small birds and eggs and small mammals.
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.
The chick is black with scattered yellow down around the head. The bare crown is reddish. The bill and the very small shield are red. Eyes are hazel to grey-brown.
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. 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.
The Common Coot is territorial and fights occur between them. They start by swimming towards each other at high speed. Then, there is violent and prolonged striking with feet, clawing at the breast of the opponent and stabbing with bill. Both birds spread and hold back the wings in order to unbalance each other.