Coot & Black Swan

© Copyright: Images: Jari Peltomäki, Kari Pihlaviita, Jouko Lehmuskallio, M. & W. von Wright: Svenska fåglar (Kansalliskirjasto, The National Library of Finland). Recording: Jan-Erik Bruun. All rights reserved.


Fulica atra

  • Name also: Common Coot, Eurasian Coot
  • Family: Rails – Rallidae
  • Appearance: A stocky black waterbird with a distinctive white beak and forehead shield. Wings wide and round-ended, with a narrow white stripe along the trailing edge of primary feathers.
  • Size: Length 36–42 cm, wingspan 70–80 cm, weight 0.6–1.2 kg.
  • Nest: May be well concealed among the previous years reed and bulrush growth, more visibly on a hummock, or on an abandoned muskrat nest. Made of plant stalks, lined with dry reed leaves etc.
  • Breeding: 4–12 eggs laid from late April, incubated by both parents for 21–24 days. Fledglings learn to fly within about 50–63 days. Fledglings hatch at quite different times (the age difference within a brood may be up to 6 days, since females already start to incubate after laying the first egg). They leave the nest 3–4 days after hatching, but return to the nest for the night. Males may build separate roosting nests for themselves. Adults will defend their nests and young aggressively and attack invaders, even much larger animals and birds. May also behave aggressively towards their own fledglings.
  • Distribution: Thrives in nutrient-rich wetlands and inland waters in Southern and Central Finland, also around the coast where range extends as far north as Oulu. Finnish population estimated at 4,000–10,000 pairs.
  • Migration: Nocturnal. Autumn migration starts in mid August and continues until late autumn or even early winter. Birds return to Finland in March–April. Winters in Western Europe, Southern Scandinavia and also in Finland (most often in the Åland Islands).
  • Diet: Invertebrates, aquatic plants. Dives in search of food, bobbing back up to the same place on the surface like a cork (dives directly downwards, not straying away from original location while underwater).
  • Calls: Varied calls, including a squeaking, metallic “kek”, a tinkling “pits”, and a groaning “pev-pev”.
  • Endangerment: Endangered, protected. Designated as game birds in Finland since the 1980s. (The only rail species included among the 26 bird species that can be legally hunted in Finland.) European red list status Near threatened, globally Least concern.

Coots are stocky, rounded, almost totally black (or greyish black) members of the rail family. Their white beaks, white forehead shields, and a narrow white stripe along the trailing edge of their wings, faintly visible on birds in flight, are the only features that stand out against their black colouring. Juvenile Coots have brownish black colouring on their heads and upper parts, but their cheeks, chins and throats are white, and their chests and bellies are brownish grey. Coots’ legs vary in colouring from black to green, with lobed webbing on their toes. Mature coots have bright red irises, but younger birds’ irises are brown.

Other species from the same family

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