The coots are medium-sized birds which are members of the rail family. They constitute the genus Fulica.
The greatest species variety is in South America, and it is likely that the genus originated there.
These rails are all predominantly black in plumage, and, unlike many of the rails, they are usually easy to see, often swimming in open water rather than skulking in reedbeds.
They have prominent frontal shields or other decoration on the forehead, and coloured bills, and many, but not all, have white on the undertail. Like other rails, they have lobed toes.
They tend to have short, rounded wings and be weak fliers, although northern species are nevertheless capable of covering long distances; the American Coot has reached Great Britain and Ireland on rare occasions. Those species that migrate do so at night.
Coots can walk and run vigorously on strong legs, and have long toes that are well adapted to soft, uneven surfaces.
These birds are omnivorous, taking mainly plant material, but also small animals and eggs. They are aggressively territorial during the breeding season, but are otherwise often found in sizeable flocks on the shallow vegetated lakes they prefer. A flock of coots is known in the US as a cover.
Species in taxonomic order
- Red-knobbed Coot, Fulica cristata
- Eurasian Coot, or Common Coot, Fulica atra
- Hawaiian Coot, Fulica alai
- American Coot, Fulica americana
- Caribbean Coot, Fulica caribaea
- White-winged Coot, Fulica leucoptera
- Andean Coot, Fulica ardesiaca
- Red-gartered Coot, Fulica armillata
- Red-fronted Coot, Fulica rufifrons
- Giant Coot, Fulica gigantea
- Horned Coot, Fulica cornuta
- Mascarene Coot, Fulica newtoni (extinct, c. 1700)
- Chatham Island Coot, Fulica chathamensis ( prehistoric)
- New Zealand Coot, Fulica prisca ( prehistoric)
- Fulica infelix (fossil: Early Pliocene of Juntura, Malheur County, Oregon, USA)
- Fulica shufeldti (fossil: Pleistocene of North America) - possibly a subspecies of Fulica americana; formerly F. minor