Description and Identification
The Coot Fulica atra is a fairly small waterbird of the family Rallidae. It is an all-black bird with the exception of a white bill and ‘shield’ above the bill. It has a plump and broad body with a short tail and small, rounded head. They are roughly 37 cm in length with a wingspan of 70-80cm and an average weight of 600-900 grams (RSPB, n.d.).
A very distinctive species which is easy to identify, with the only potential confusion in the UK being the Moorhen Gallinula chloropus due to their shared habitat, black body and similar shape but smaller size.
Their nest consists of a pile of dead reeds at the edge of reedbed and they defend their territory well, swimming aggressively at potential threats (mostly other Coot). They feed on vegetation, seeds, insect larvae and snails (RSPB, n.d.).
|Coot, Southend-on-Sea (Essex), October 2015 (Max Hellicar)|
Species: F. atra
Distribution and Status
The Coot is a frequently occurring resident species throughout much of Britain, being common throughout England and Wales (but absent from some areas) and more patchily distributed in Scotland. The UK breeding population is estimated at 31,000 pairs however the wintering population is estimated to be 190,000 individuals (RSPB, n.d.). A portion of British breeders migrate to Western Europe in the winter, while many form large flocks on reservoirs throughout Britain and Ireland (Svensson et al., 1999).
|Coot, Epping Forest (Essex), January 2015 (Max Hellicar)|
It is a species I have ringed in London as part of the nationwide study on Coot movements, which involves darvic ringing Coot across Britain and Ireland and has been running since 2013. Bird ringing is a process which involves licensed individuals catching, ringing, recording biometrics and releasing birds, and it provides highly valuable information about bird movements and survival rates, which is vital to conservation as it builds a picture of how these processes influence sizes of populations over time. More information on the Ringing Scheme can be found here: bto.org/volunteer-surveys/ringing. Using darvic rings instead of just metal rings on Coot generates many more resightings as these rings are more visible and much easier to read in the field. The nationwide Coot study has produced some very interesting results to date, with the first overseas sighting being of a bird ringed in Northumberland and seen in Denmark in 2015. More information on the Coot study is available here: ukcootstudy.weebly.com.
|Coot ringing, St. James's Park (London), January 2018 (Max Hellicar)|
At UEA, the Coot is a relatively scarce species, being a very frequent occurrence just a couple of decades ago but becoming more infrequent in recent years. This absence is quite strange as the habitat at UEA is perfectly suitable and they occur quite frequently at other sites around Norwich. It is still an annually occurring species at UEA but has not been resident for some years, until now (potentially)… I noted a single bird on the UEA Broad on 18th February which the first I had seen at UEA, increasing to three by 21st February, then four on 22nd. Four birds (two pairs) were present throughout March, which has now increased to six birds (three pairs) at the time of writing (1st April) and one of these pairs have built a nest. Due to the small number of suitable nesting sites for Coot on the Broad, with one of the prime locations already being occupied by the initial pair, the chances for the other two pairs to breed are uncertain, however numbers are increasing! Time will tell if they are to be successful – could this be the return of the Coot as a regular resident and breeding species at UEA…?
|Coot on nest, UEA Broad, 28 March 2019 (Max Hellicar)|
|Coot, UEA Broad, 28 March 2019 (Max Hellicar)|
References and Sources of Information
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. (n.d.). Coot Bird Facts. Retrieved April 01, 2019, from Royal Society for the Protection of Birds: www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/coot.
Svensson, L., Grant, P. J., Mullarney, K., & Zetterstrom, D. (1999). Collins Bird Guide. London, UK: Harper-Collins.