The swimming ‘chicken’
The coot is an aquatic bird that is easily identified by its black plumage, white beak and facial shield. It is the size of a fat chicken, in fact, in Maltese it is called tiġieġa tal-baħar.
Coots spend most of their time in water and although they do climb on land you are unlikely to see them out of water in the Maltese Islands.
Like ducks, coots use their legs and feet to propel themselves through the water but their feet are not webbed like those of ducks but palmate, that is, they have flaps of skin along the sides of their toes.
They are not strong flyers although they can migrate over relatively long distances.
In Malta coots can be seen from early autumn to late spring mainly at the Għadira and Is-Simar nature reserves.
In winter they prefer to swim together as a flock but during the breeding season they are more solitary and keep chasing each other noisily away.
Although it is not the breeding season, such behaviour can still be seen among the coots presently living at Is-Simar.
The habitat at this reserve is just right for these birds which prefer marshlands with ample vegetation, especially reeds, which provides them with food and cover throughout the year.
The habitat there is so much to their liking that coots bred at Is-Simar twice, in 2008 and in 2009. They will hopefully breed there again in the future.
The coot is not the only all-black bird one can see at the two reserves. The moorhen, which has been breeding in the Maltese Islands for nearly three decades, is also easily recognised: it is slightly smaller than the coot and has a red and yellow beak.