Adults have a short thick white bill and white frontal shield, with a reddish-brown spot near the base of the bill between the eyes. Their breeding habitat is marshes from southern Quebec to the Pacific coast of North America and as far south as northern South America. They migrate from northern locations to the southern United States and southern British Columbia.
Their call is a high-pitched squeaking honk somewhat like a goose's but more hollow sounding. American coots are highly territorial during the breeding season, with both males and females fighting with neighbors to maintain a small territory where they obtain all their food.
These chunky birds require a great deal of effort to become airborne, pedaling across the water with their feet before lifting off.
Although coots look like weak fliers, this species has crossed the Atlantic to reach western Europe at least 23 times, including 12 records in the Azores and four in Great Britain. The females are known to lay eggs in neighbors' nests (known as conspecific brood parasitism). In December 2003, an individual of this species attempted to overwinter in the Shetland Islands, Scotland.
Their chicks have black bodies with bright red head and beak, and orange plumes around the neck.

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