Scientific Name: Fulica atra
Size: 32 to 39 cm
What does it look and sound like?
The Eurasian Coot is an attractive bird. The distinguishing feature is its snowy white bill. The remainder of the bird is black, except for its bright red eye. The Eurasian Coot cannot be confused with any other rail found in Australia. The most common call is also distinctive; a loud “kowk”.
Immature birds are generally paler than adults with a white wash on the throat. Nestlings are downy, black with fine yellow tips. The head is orange-red and the bill is red with a cream-white tip.
Where is it found?
The Distribution of the Eurasian Coot ranges from Eurasia to Indonesia, New Guinea and Australia. Birds have also recently self-transported themselves to New Zealand, and the species is quickly becoming established.
What are its habitats & habits?
In Australia it is common in suitably vegetated lagoons and swamps. Birds are less common in the north and in the drier regions.
The Eurasian Coot is an aggressive bird, and, because of this, it is seen in healthy numbers wherever it occurs.
Food is mainly obtained during underwater dives, lasting up to 15 seconds and ranging up to 7 m in depth. The Eurasian Coot is able to compress its feathers and squeeze out all of the air, which allows it to dive deeply and for longer periods. Birds also graze on the land and on the surface of the water.
In Australia, Eurasian Coots feed almost entirely on vegetable matter, supplemented with only a few insects, worms and fish. Birds of the northern hemisphere tend to take much more animal prey.
During the breeding season, normally August to February, 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 also often killed.
Eurasian Coots may breed at any time that conditions are favourable, and may produce successive broods. The nest is often a floating raft of vegetation or is built on logs or tree stumps that are surrounded by water. Up to 15 eggs may be laid in any one brood, and both sexes share incubation and care of the young. If food becomes scarce, the young birds may be killed by the parents.
This species features in my book Australia’s Birdwatching Megaspots