Feet of the Common Coot

on 11th July 2008


The Common Coot (Fulica atra) is a large bird that is generally quarrelsome. The charcoal plumage and flashy bill shield make it easy to recognise. The image above was taken by KC Tsang when he visited the London Wetland Centre in June 2008.

Found frequently in still or slow-moving freshwaters, the coot is a fully aquatic bird. It takes to the air rather reluctantly but they are strong fliers, compared to others in the family.


An unusual adaptation to its life in water is the large, scalloped toes (left top). These enlarged lateral lobes provide for efficient swimming. On land, the bird appears clumsy when moving around.

The lower image on the left shows the foot of the American Coot (F. americana), with the lobes folding when the foot is moved forward so that they will not cause drag. The lobes will fold out when traction is needed with backward movement.

Coots used to be popularly eaten in Britain at one time. Traditional coot shoots were once organized at large wetlands where huge winter flocks were common. And large numbers were shot for sport and food.

Richard Carden wrote: “Coming from the UK where coots are incredibly common and having lived in HK & Japan where coots are not uncommon, I was surprised that they are such a rare bird in this part of the world

“This was highlighted to me a couple of years ago in Bali. I was birding with Victor Mason, an infamous character, author of at least two Bali bird books and founder of Bali bird walks which has been operating for at least 30 years. We were searching for white browed crake when my girlfriend Kaori shouted that she had found one, she pointed to the middle of the lake where there was a very obvious coot paddling around. Calming her down and telling her she had not found our target bird it was just ‘O-ban’, the Japanese name for common coot, I shouted over to Victor, false alarm, just a common coot. Without shifting his gaze from the lake edge and the crake search Victor said impossible there are no coots in Bali. There are now I said, at least eight of them ! Victor nearly fell in the lake, it was his first new bird for Bali in more than 10 years. Last recorded in Bali in 1953 I believe and only a couple of other times in the last century

“The moral of the story I guess is that one of the things that makes our shared hobby so interesting is you never know what will turn up and when.

“Hope Kaori can find us some coots in Singapore.”

Well, there was a confirmed sighting of the coot in 1940 and two others in the 1980s. These, no doubt were rare vagrants. None have been seen since.

Images of Common Coot by KC Tsang, that of American Coot by Joyce Tan of Palo Alto, California, US.

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

Other posts by YC Wee

2 Responses

  1. Pingback: common coot
  2. Thank you for the website. I saw one of these birds this afternoon. It’s feet is what was so unusual and with the help of this information I know what it is now.
    We live in North, Alabama USA.

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