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Birdzilla Center for Bird Identification – Coot, Moorhen and Gallinule

American Coot

Coots and gallinules are not the typical waterfowl. While they are duck-like in appearance they are more closely related to the rails.

American Coot.

A common and widespread rail species, the American Coot is sometimes territorial but often gregarious outside of the breeding season, and may gather in noisy flocks to forage for underwater plant materials. Although strong fliers, American Coots need paddling starts across the water’s surface to become airborne.

American Coots are often prey for hawks, owls, and Bald Eagles, and when threatened they may begin splashing or actually dive to avoid capture. Repeated capture attempts by an aerial predator may result in exhaustion of a coot and its eventual capture.

American Coot

Head darker than back.  White bill. May show small, reddish shield on the head at the base of the bill.  Greenish legs with long toes. Photograph © Sam Crowe.

American Coot in flight

Pale wing linings.  Photograph © Sam Crowe.


Common Gallinule

Like other marsh birds, the Common Moorhen is local in its distribution, depending on the availability of its preferred habitat. Dense aquatic vegetation such as cattails or bulrushes is important for Common Moorhens, though the surrounding landscape can be either natural or urban.

Large feet enable the moorhen to walk across soggy marsh vegetation. It does not have webbed feet like ducks, but is still able to swim quite capably. It prefers to hide in vegetation if threatened, but can dive briefly to escape an attack from a hawk.

Its common name has gone back and forth from Gallinule to Moorhen and back to Gallinule.

Common Gallinule

White in the wing and tail. Brown back, gray flanks, darker head.  Red forehead shield on adult, reddish bill with pale tip. Photograph Sam Crowe.


Purple Gallinule

Boldly colored in iridescent greens and blues, the Purple Gallinule makes a dramatic impression on the observer. Prone to wandering, Purple Gallinules occasionally turn up well outside of their southern U.S. breeding range, even in other countries.

Juvenile Purple Gallinules from a first brood may help feed young birds in a second brood. Rice farms are often used for nesting, but an early harvest can mean that some young birds are lost to harvesting activities.

Purple Gallinule

Yellow legs have long toes.  Blue body with blue-green wings and back.  Blue shield, red bill with yellow tip.  Photograph Sam Crowe.


About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

Let others know your thoughts or ask an expert


Sunday 1st of October 2023

To add to the confusion you could have included the grey-headed swamphen to this article.

Patrick O'Donnell

Thursday 5th of October 2023

@Greg- Yes, good suggestion!

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