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A familiar bird of lakes and open water, black with a prominent white cap

Photograph by: 
Peter Orchard

It is not hard to see where the old saying 'As bald as a coot' comes from is it? This coot (Fulica atra) is proudly showing us its most distinctive feature, the white frontal shield and white beak. 

The coot is actually not black but dark grey when seen close up. You can just discern that perhaps from the lit under feathers on its front here. Apart from its white features it has no other distinctive markings. They do have remarkable feet, however, not webbed like a duck, with a kind of padding along each toe, three toes pointing forward and one back. This padding stops them sinking into the mud whereas a duck's web feet are used as paddles. If you look in soft mud you will often see the imprints of these feet (but be careful because they could also be a moorhen's footprints). They browse for food as well as diving and dabbling.  

Overall, I guess the coot is bit of a comical bird. It can be bad tempered and very aggressive towards neighbours, especially other coot and moorhens. They make a honking noise like an old hand-held air horn, the ones with a rubber bubble you squeeze! To take off they run along the surface of the water flapping their wings furiously to gain sufficient speed to get in to the air. 


Coot can be found anywhere there is open water, salt or fresh, but rarely on the sea. They are very common in Dorset, especially in winter as the numbers are boosted by arrivals from further north. Quite large numbers can be seen in Christchurch harbour, Poole harbour, on the River Wey at Radipole, on the Fleet and just about anywhere there is still, open water.


Coot: the bald one

Common Name Coot
Scientific Name Fulica atra
Species Group Birds Rails and cranes
Status Frequent
Interest Level
  • 01 - January
  • 02 - February
  • 03 - March
  • 04 - April
  • 05 - May
  • 06 - June
  • 07 - July
  • 08 - August
  • 09 - September
  • 10 - October
  • 11 - November
  • 12 - December
Look for

The white shield on the forehead

Identification Notes
  • Superficially like a moorhen but there are distinct differences with the coot being entirely black apart from the white 'shield' on its forehead
  • Prefers open water and can be seen on larger lakes during the breeding season
  • In winter there numbers are swelled by incoming migrants and they can be seen in large numbers on sheltered open waters
Primary Habitat
Preferred Environment
Look for
Additional Identification Notes
Similar Species

The records for this species have been organised into reports, charts, maps and photos. Click a pic below to see the detail:

Notebook Sites List Distribution Map Some Charts Some Photographs Recent Records Guidance Notes

To see related species click here: 

Birds Rails and cranes