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American coot

American coot (Fulica americana) Photo © Mary Kay Rubey

Features and Behaviors

An adult American coot is 13 to 16 inches in length. Both sexes are similar in appearance. This bird has dark, blue-gray body feathers with darker head and throat feathers. The bill is white with a spot of red at the base. There is a white spot under the tail and white tips on the underside of the wings. The American coot has red eyes. Chicks have dark feathers and a red-orange head.

The American coot is a migrant throughout Illinois. It commonly breeds in northern and central Illinois. It is an uncommon winter resident in southern Illinois. This bird winters in the southern United States along the Gulf of Mexico. The American coot lives on and around ponds, lakes, mudflats, marshes and other places where there is short grass around water. It eats aquatic insects, crayfish, mollusks (snails, mussels) and aquatic plants. It dives in deep water to gather food. The call is "kuk-kuk-kuk-kuk." Migration occurs at night. Spring migrants may be seen as early as February. Nesting occurs from May through June with the nest built on the ground near water or on water plants, like cattails. Five to 15 tan eggs with dark spots are laid. Fall migration begins in August.

Illinois Range


​Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Gruiformes
Family: Rallidae

Illinois Status: common, native