The red-knobbed coot is largely black except for the white frontal shield. It is 38?45 cm (15?18 in) long, spans 75?85 cm (30?33 in) across the wings and weighs 585?1,085 g (1.290?2.392 lb). As a swimming species, it has partial webbing on its long strong toes. The juvenile is paler than the adult, has a whitish breast, and lacks the facial shield; the adult's black plumage develops when about 3?4 months old, but the white shield is only fully developed at about one year old, some time later. A good view is necessary to separate this species from the Eurasian coot, with which its range overlaps. There are two tiny red knobs at the top of the facial shield, which are not visible at any great distance and are only present in the breeding season; the black feathering between the shield and the bill is rounded, whereas in Eurasian it comes to a point; and the bill has a bluish grey tinge. The red-knobbed coot is reluctant to fly and when taking off runs across the water surface with much splashing. It does the same, but without actually flying, when travelling a short distance at speed (to escape a rival, for example, or to dispute possession of a choice morsel). It bobs its head as it swims, and makes short dives from a little jump.
Habitat and Distribution
It is a resident breeder across much of Africa and in southernmost Spain on freshwater lakes and ponds.
The red-knobbed coot is an omnivore, and will take a variety of small live prey including the eggs of other water birds. Its main food in most waters however comprises various waterweeds such as species of Potamogeton for which it commonly dives.
It builds a nest of dead reeds near the water's edge or more commonly afloat, laying about 8 eggs (or more in good conditions). However, its behaviour towards its own young is so aggressive that only a few are likely to survive to adulthood.
Calls and Songs
This is a noisy bird during mating, but its vocalisations are quite different from the Eurasian coot. It gives a fast kerrre like the little crake, a harsh ka-haa and a grunting hoot `oot oot` that suggests that the name `coot` might be onomatopoeia, but inspection of the etymology of `coot` fairly decisively negates any such suggestion.