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American Coot, Mark Habdas
Photo © Mark Habdas

Photo: Mark Habdas
Breeding evidence - American Coot
Breeding evidence
Probability of observation - American Coot
Probability of observation
Elevation plot - American Coot
Elevation plot

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American Coot
Fulica americana
Landscape associations:

Click on plot to view table of mean abundance
Elevation range:
15 - 1531 m
Conserv. status:
Not at risk
Global importance
of B.C. population:
Number of squares
ConfirmedProbablePossiblePoint counts
148 44 115 45
Long-term BBS trends
RegionYearsTrend (conf. interv.) Reliab.
Brit. Col.1970 - 2012 -2.07 (-5.33 - 0.583)Medium
Canada1970 - 2012 1.35 (-1.11 - 3.35)Medium

Mean abundance by region

Bird Conservation Regions [plot]
NW Interior ForestBoreal Taiga PlainsGreat BasinNorthern RockiesN. Pacific Rainforest
 0.04 0.30.25 0.04
Ecoprovinces [plot]
N. Boreal Mountains Taiga Plains Boreal Plains Georgia Depression Sub-Boreal Interior
S. Interior Mountains Central Interior Southern Interior S. Alaska Mountains Coast & Mountains
0.190.33 0.3   

Mean abundance by habitat [plot]

Boreal Altai Fescue AlpineBoreal White and Black SpruceBunchgrassCoastal Douglas-fir
Coastal Mountain-heather AlpineCoastal Western HemlockEngelmann Spruce -- Subalpine FirInterior Cedar -- Hemlock
 0.04 0.23
Interior Douglas-firInterior Mountain-heather AlpineMontane SpruceMountain Hemlock
Ponderosa PineSpruce -- Willow -- BirchSub-Boreal Pine -- SpruceSub-Boreal Spruce

Characteristics and Range The American Coot is the most aquatic and least secretive of the North American rails. Easily recognised by its slaty-black plumage and contrasting white bill and narrow forehead "shield", this coot is a familiar wetland bird across North America. American Coots are generally short to medium-distance migrants, with a range spanning the Prairies, Great Basin and Great Lakes regions south to Central America (Brisbin and Mowbray 2002); they are mainly freshwater birds, but some will use brackish and saltwater habitats, especially in winter.

Distribution, Abundance, and Habitat The centres of American Coot breeding distribution are the lower elevation wetlands of central-southern and northeastern British Columbia. This distribution remains much as it was when The Birds of British Columbia was published in 1990, except that the Atlas did not record any observations in the far north, where the species historically bred in the Liard and Fort Nelson River basin. American Coots overwinter and migrate through British Columbia in quite large numbers, so care was taken with assessing possible breeding records in late spring.

The American Coot is not particularly numerous as a breeding bird in British Columbia, reflected in the relatively low Probability of Observation values, which highlight the lower elevation Fraser Plateau and Thompson-Nicola drainage wetlands, and the Southern Rocky Mountain Trench wetland system as the most likely places to find it. The 500-750 m elevation range, within which these three areas lie, supported highest abundance, although point counts are not the best method for sampling the localised wetland habitats preferred by coots.

The American Coot nests in a variety of wetland types, especially lakes and ponds but also creeks, streams, sloughs, drainage channels and sewage lagoons, almost always with stands of tall emergent vegetation. Cattails (Typha latifolia), bulrush (Scirpus), reed (Phragmites) or sedge (Cyperaceae) species are favoured for siting and constructing nests (Campbell et al. 1990).

Conservation and Recommendations The American Coot's population in British Columbia appears to be stable. It is potentially vulnerable to drought periods and projected long-term drying through climate change (e.g., Hamann and Wang 2006). Hunting pressure is now low, and the long-term population trend across its range is moderately increasing, having recovered from the population crash through wetland loss and hunting in the early 20th Century (Brisbin and Mowbray 2002).

Peter J. A. Davidson

Recommended citation: Davidson, P.J.A. 2015. American Coot in Davidson, P.J.A., R.J. Cannings, A.R. Couturier, D. Lepage, and C.M. Di Corrado (eds.). The Atlas of the Breeding Birds of British Columbia, 2008-2012. Bird Studies Canada. Delta, B.C. [14 Apr 2024]

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