The American coot is a plump, chicken-like bird with a rounded head and sloping bill. Their tiny tail, short wings, and large feet are visible on the rare occasions they take flight. They are a clumsy flier and require long takeoffs to become airborne. On land they walk like a chicken rather than waddling like similar aquatic birds. At close range you may see a small patch of red on the forehead.
They eat mainly aquatic plants including algae, duckweed, eelgrass, wild rice, sedges, hydrilla, wild celery, waterlilies, cattails, water milfoil; when on land they also pick at terrestrial plants and sometimes eat grains or leaves of oak, elm, and cypress trees. They’re not exclusively vegetarian, as they also like eating insects, crustaceans, snails, and small vertebrates such as tadpoles and salamanders.
Coots inhabit a wide variety of freshwater wetlands from prairie potholes to swamps and marshes to suburban park and sewage ponds to the edges of large lakes where they like to nest afloat on top of water.