The American Coot (Fulica americana) is a bird of the family Rallidae, inhabiting wetlands and open water bodies. About 16 inches (40 cm) in length and weighing 1.4 lb (0.65 kg), adults have a short thick white bill and white frontal shield, which usually has a reddish-brown spot near the top of the bill between the eyes. From up close, a dark band can be distinguished at the billtip. The body is grey with the head and neck darker than the rest of the body. Their legs are yellowish, with scalloped toes rather than webbed feet. Their chicks have black bodies with bright red head and beak, and orange plumes around the neck. The call is a high-pitched squeaking honk somewhat like a goose's but more hollow sounding.
Although coots seem rather weak fliers, like most rails they have considerable stamina once airborne. This species has crossed the Atlantic to reach western Europe at least 23 times since records began, including 12 records in the Azores and four in Great Britain. In December 2003, an individual of this species attempted to overwinter in the Shetland Islands, Scotland.
These birds are frequently seen swimming in open water. They can dive for food but can also forage on land. American Coots are omnivorous, eating plant material, arthropods, fish, and other aquatic animals. They nest in a well-concealed location in tall reeds.
American Coots are highly territorial during the breeding season, with both males and females fighting with neighbors to maintain a small territory where they obtain all their food. The females are known to lay eggs in neighbors' nests (conspecific brood parasitism); contrary to what one might expect, this behavior is more common among females that already have a nest than among those that were not able to secure a suitable territory for breeding in that season.
Outside the breeding season, particularly in winter, they gather together in sometimes huge groups for protection and socializing. Groups of coots are called covers or rafts.
On the Louisiana coast, the Cajun word for coot is pouldeau, from French for "coot", poule d'eau - literally "water hen". Coot can be used for cooking; it is somewhat popular in Cajun cuisine e.g. as an ingredient for gumbos cooked at home by duck hunters.