- Minnesota Breeding Bird Distribution
- Breeding Habitat
- Population Abundance
- Literature Cited
A regular breeding resident and migrant, the American Coot is regularly observed during the winter months, with reports most frequently documented in central and southeastern Minnesota. The American Coot was an uncommon species during the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas (MNBBA).
The core of the American Coot’s breeding range in North America is in the northern Great Plains of the United States and the Prairie Parklands of the central Canadian provinces (Figure 1). Although far less common elsewhere, the species is a year-round resident across much of the western United States and further south through Central America and the Caribbean.
Ranked as Low Concern by the North American Waterbird Conservation Plan and assigned a Continental Concern Score of 8/20 by Partners in Flight.
Northern populations are medium- to long-distance migrants; most coots winter along the southern Atlantic Coast, the United States Gulf Coast, the lower Mississippi River valley, and in Central America.
Pecks food from the water’s surface or just below and occasionally dives, feeding on a wide variety of aquatic plants, invertebrates, and small fish. Known as a kleptoparasite, the coot frequently secures food items by stealing from other waterfowl nesting in its wetland marsh.
A platform anchored to stems of emergent vegetation, occasionally with a ramp leading to the water’s surface. Numerous platforms are constructed during courtship; one is usually selected for the eggs. A larger platform for the brood may be constructed after the eggs have hatched.
Since Roberts wrote his two-volume treatise on Minnesota birds in 1932, the American Coot has always been recognized as an abundant breeding resident wherever suitable wetland habitat was available. He wrote, “During the month of June hundreds of Coots’ nests may be found in practically all the sloughs and shallow lakes of the state.” Despite the species’ abundance, confirmed nesting reports were only available from the handful of sites that Roberts, his colleagues Walter Breckenridge and William Kilgore, or his outstate contacts frequently visited: Heron Lake in Jackson County, numerous sites in Minneapolis and throughout Hennepin County, and in the far northwest counties of Marshall and Kittson.
Green and Janssen (1975) and Janssen (1987) further clarified that although the species was a statewide breeding resident, it was rare in the northeast and far north-central counties. Janssen described its primary range as occurring “west of the Mississippi River in the northern and central regions and west of Goodhue, Dodge and Mower counties in the south.” Data collected by the Minnesota Biological Survey further confirmed this assessment (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 2016). Janssen (1987) delineated 46 counties where nesting had been confirmed since 1970; Hertzel and Janssen (1998) later added an additional 13 counties to the list.
During the MNBBA, observers reported 490 American Coot records in 7.3% (349/4,749) of the surveyed atlas blocks and in 7.7% (180/2,337) of the priority blocks. Breeding evidence was collected in 85 blocks (Figures 2 and 3; Table 1). In total, the coot was reported in 72 of Minnesota’s 87 counties and was confirmed breeding in 35 counties. Several of these counties were additions to the list published by Hertzel and Janssen (1998)—Dakota, Freeborn, Renville, Sibley, and Traverse—as well as a breeding record from 1 block that straddled both Red Lake and Pennington. Only 13 of the MNBBA observations, including 1 breeding record, were within the Laurentian Mixed Forest Province of northeastern and north-central Minnesota. A majority of records were within the southern half of the Prairie Parklands.
Although the American Coot’s current distribution appears similar to that described by Green and Janssen (1975) and Janssen (1987), the species’ abundance has clearly declined since the days of Roberts, when hundreds of birds could be found in any given wetland. Elsewhere, declines in both abundance and distribution have been noted since the early 1900s. While the American Coot’s distribution has expanded westward, it has retracted and become quite scarce in the east, no doubt due largely to the extensive loss of wetlands (Brisbin and Mowbray 2002). In the late 1960s, coots began to decline along the western Lake Erie marshes in Ohio, where they had been a common nesting species. Inland, populations began to decline in the 1950s and 1960s (Rodewald et al. 2016). Many coastal wetlands along the Great Lakes that provided prime breeding habitat for the American Coot in Michigan were lost in the 1980s. Between the state’s first and second atlas, block occurrences in Michigan declined 43% (Chartier et al. 2013); in Pennsylvania, they declined 28% (Wilson et al. 2012).
*Note that the definition of confirmed nesting of a species is different for Breeding Bird Atlas projects, including the definition used by the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas, compared with a more restrictive definition used by the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union. For details see the Data Methods Section.