If you are out on a pontoon boat in Lake Panasoffkee, kayaking down the Withlacoochee river or walking around your neighborhood pond, you may have certainly encountered our Florida mudhen. Or most commonly referred to as the American coot (Fulica americana) . Most people see American coots and think they are a type of duck. The truth is that American coots are in their own family. Their cousins are gallinules and the super secretive rails. American coots are very easy to identify. They have a dark gray to black body, piercing red eyes and white beak. They can be seen walking along the waters edge, skipping amongst the lily pads or swimming in groups in open water. American coots can be year long residents. The best time to see them in large groups is during the winter time when the fall seasonal arrivals begin. It is not uncommon to see groups of 50 to 100 in large lakes like Lake Sumter. Nesting occurs from about March to August. Nests can be found in the shallows and are usually floating platforms. The nests are made of mostly of dead vegetation (cattails, sedges etc.). American coots lay between 8 to 12 eggs. Young are able to leave the nest as soon as 6 hours of hatching and can swim shortly after that. After about 6 to 8 weeks, young are able to become airborne. I have recently (8/22/18) observed a few young juveniles in Sumter County in Lake Sumter. The diet of American coots is quite diverse. Plants commonly consumed are cattails, sedges, grasses and even the highly invasive hydrilla. American coots are not strictly vegetarians, they like some protein as well in their diet. Adults also can be seen eating snails, tadpoles, crayfish, fish, insects and other arthropods. The most interesting thing one notices about the American coot is its take off. It cannot simply lift off and fly. Instead, they have to get a running start across the water, flapping their wings vigorously to get airborne. In large groups, this is a sight to see.
Photos: J.E. Davis, UF/IFAS
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. 2003, January 6. Florida’s breeding bird atlas: A collaborative study of Florida’s
birdlife. http://www.myfwc.com/bba/ (Date accessed 09/10/2018).