Coots Fighting (Phil Lanoue)


These coot fight images are from Phil Lanoue, whom I have featured before. He is a master of bird sequences, magicking a whole avian story or drama in a few clear, sharp photos. These types of image are well beyond my skills and my camera limitations. Here are 2 males battling over a female which, by the final aggressive image in which dominance is asserted, has disappeared for the picture…

Coots Fighting (Phil Lanoue)Coots Fighting (Phil Lanoue)Coots Fighting (Phil Lanoue)

The other battle in Coot World occurred in 2016 when the endemic Caribbean Coot (formerly Fulica caribaea) was defeated by the combined forces of the American Coot (Fulica americana) and the all-powerful AOU, official arbiter of bird categorisation. They are now joined as a single species, the differences between the two types being considered insufficient to warrant separate species status. The familiar American version looks like this (note the red area on the shield above the beak):

American Coot - Bahamas - Great Abaco - Gerlinde Taurer

The ex-Caribbean Coot, has white frontal shield that extends to the top of the head. When I was compiling ‘Birds of Abaco‘ in 2013, there was already a question mark over the separate species status, with many regarding it as a sub-species of the American Coot. I wrote: There is an intriguing debate, a small book in itself, about the existence as a distinct species of the Caribbean Coot, with its white frontal shield. Many field guides include it separately, some with the rider that it is ‘unrecorded in the Bahamas’. The Bahamas Bird Records Committee does not recognise it, and Hallett, among other experts, views it simply as an American Coot variant. The image below of the two coots together is included to illustrate the visible difference between the birds. The genetic debate is fortunately outside the scope of this book”. That said, I pigheadedly went ahead and included it as a separate species anyway… 

An ex-Caribbean coot, with its white frontal shield.  Since 2016, just another coot'Caribbean' (now American' Coot - white frontal shield - Abaco, Bahamas. Woody Bracey

The research that led to the reclassification was based on the fact that breeding biology suggests that different species favour their own species for breeding. Research by Douglas McNair and Carol Cramer-Burke indicated that there is little or no ‘reproductive isolation’ of the sort to be expected in different species. The coots had no particular preference in their choice of mate. Also, they sound alike.

American Coot (Keith Salvesen)




American Coot.Treasure Cay, Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

Credits: Phil Lanoue (1 – 4); Gerlinde Taurer (5); Woody Bracey (6); Keith Salvesen (7); Tom Sheley (8). Research inc. eBird Caribbean – an excellent resource to check out


American Coot - Bahamas - Great Abaco - Gerlinde Taurer


The American Coot Fulica americana is similar in many respects to the COMMON GALLINULE (MOORHEN). Except for the beak colour, of course. And as you will see below, the feet.

American Coot.Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

Most people would give an off-the-cuff description of a coot as ‘a black duck with a white beak’. They might add ‘…and a red eye’. Or ‘…and a dark band at the tip of the beak’. Or even ‘…I think there’s a white bit at the back end’. The header image pretty much sums up the classic coot.

American Coot 2 (Keith Salvesen)

However, coots seem to take up or reflect other colours at times. The eyes remain a piercing red and the beak is white, but the body can range from black through slate-grey to pale grey, depending on the light. There may even be a tinge of brown or even orange.

American Coot - Bahamas - Great Abaco - Gerlinde Taurer

I always enjoy seeing coots and moorhens somewhere where the water ‘works’ with them and creates a dramatic image. I took the first photo below recently on the JKO reservoir in Central Park, New York, where the water looked weirdly like molten metal and some trick of the light made the bird seem as if is was in a shallow depression in the water.

American Coot (Keith Salvesen)

Tom Sheley took the photo below on a ‘green water’ day at the pond on Treasure Cay Golf Course. I have recommended it before as an excellent birding site for waterbirds – coots, moorhens, Bahama pintails, northern pintails, neotropic cormorants, blue-winged teal, least grebes, pied-billed grebes, green herons – I’ve even seen a reclusive least bittern there. There are plenty of ‘land’ birds on the course too.

American Coot.Treasure Cay, Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy 2

If you go to TCGC for the birding, you just need to clock in at the clubhouse in case it’s a match day; and so they know who is out and about on the course. And, as I wrote elsewhere, if you hear a loud yell of “Fore”, it probably won’t be someone counting the coots. Time to… er… duck.


I mentioned that one of the differences between coots and moorhens is their feet. Gerlinde Taurer’s photo of a coot taking off suggests that something powerful is happening below the water to assist the wings to propel the bird into flight.American Coot - Bahamas - Great Abaco - Gerlinde Taurer

A coot’s feet are quite unlike the pedal extremities of any other birdCoot, showing feet (Keith Salvesen)Coot Feet Close-up Keith Salvesen copy

Moorhen’s feet for comparison – completely different structurallymoorhen_feet-mehmet-kartuk-wikijpg-copy* A: “A funny-shaped thing on the end of your leg”. How we laughed (aged 7)

Credits: Gerlinde Taurer (1, 4, 7); Tom Sheley (2, 6); Keith Salvesen (3, 5, 8, 9); Mehemet Kartuk (wiki) 10