Although coots will mix freely with ducks on ponds and lakes, they are more closely related to cranes than waterfowl. Coots have rounded bodies with tiny tails and short wings. Due to their squat build, they are awkward fliers who require long running takeoffs to get airborne. On the water they will forage and dive like ducks, but on land they move like chickens in that they walk rather than waddle.
The American coot can be identified by its dusky grey to black body, rounded head and bright red eyes. The bright white bill is short and heavy with a black tip. The legs are greenish-yellow and they do not have webbed feet. Instead, they have lobed scales on their legs and toes which help them swim but fold back when they are walking on land.
Coots are a highly social species and may congregate in groups known as “rafts” or “covers” which can number in the thousands. When nesting, females will lay one egg a day for up to nine eggs total and may periodically replace destroyed or lost eggs. Because their eggs are often preyed on by red foxes, coyotes, striped skunks and raccoons, coots are vigilant and aggressive in the defense of their nests. Chicks will hatch after three weeks of incubation. These birds are considered long-lived with the oldest known reaching 22 years in age.
American coots can be found year-round throughout the western United States. Like ducks, they are often found in urban areas where large bodies of water are present. This might include public parks, golf courses, marshes, reservoirs and even sewage treatment facilities.