The Eurasian Coot or Fulica atra is recognised by its snowy white bill and forehead shield, which probably gave rise to the expression: ‘as bald as a coot’. The remainder of the bird is dark sooty grey, except for its bright red eye. Immature birds are generally paler than adults with a white wash on the throat. Nestlings are downy, black with fine yellow tips.
The Eurasian Coot ranges from Eurasia (Europe and Asia in almost its entity) to Indonesia, New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand.
The Coot is a much less secretive animal 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. Both parents are involved in territorial defence.
It is reluctant to fly and when taking off runs across the water surface with much splashing. They take off, but without actually flying, travelling a short distance at speed usually in territorial disputes. It bobs its head as it swims, and can make short dives from a little jump.
The Coot is an omnivore, and will take a variety of small live prey including the eggs of other water birds, as well as algae, vegetation, seeds and fruit. It shows considerable variation in its feeding techniques, grazing on land or in the water. In the water it may upend or dive in search of food.
Eurasian Coots may breed at any time that conditions are favourable, and may produce successive broods. During the breeding season pairs establish and maintain territories with vigour. Their aggression is also extended towards other species. Nests of ducks are often seized and used as roosting sites, the unfortunate owner’s eggs being pushed off into the water. Young ducks and grebes are sometimes killed. The nest is often a floating raft of vegetation or is built on logs or tree stumps that are surrounded by water. Both sexes share incubation and care of the young.
However, Coots can be very brutal to their own young as well, especially when under pressure from lack of food. When the parents are pressed, they will bite young that are begging for food and repeatedly do so until it stops begging. This usually means the young will starve to death. If the begging continues, they may bite so hard that the chick is killed.