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Desert Diary
Birds/American Coot


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How do you make an egg float on water? The American Coot knows! This water bird builds a floating nest from marsh plants, anchoring it to things like cattails.

Often seen in the company of ducks, they're not closely related. These wide-ranging, talented swimmers can be distinguished from ducks by toes that are lobed rather than webbed and a bill that is almost chicken-like.

Although these birds mainly eat plants, the adults have to keep up their insect-catching skills—coot chicks need protein in their diet, and they get it from the insects mom and dad catch.

With 6-11 eggs per clutch, there are more than enough young for a pair of busy parents! But some coots get sneaky and lay their eggs in the nests of OTHER coots! The foster parents end up with a super-sized batch of chicks to take care of! pen and inkSo next time the kids overwhelm you, count your blessings, and be glad there aren't a dozen of them!


Listen to the Audio (mp3 format) as recorded by KTEP, Public Radio for the Southwest.


Contributor: Scott Cutler, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.

rule American Coot

American Coot. Photograph by Dr. Antonio J. Ferreira. © California Academy of Sciences, 1999.



Ligon, J. S. 1961. New Mexico Birds and Where to Find Them. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 360 pp.

Web Resources

American Coot Photo from the Tsuru Web Site. A large number of bird and mammal images.