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The Red-gartered Coot is one of a number of coot species common in the freshwater marshes and lakes of southern South America. It is distinguised from other similarly dark-bodied coots by small patches of red separating the yellow bill from the yellow frontal shield, as well as red markings on the legs. In many cases, the species is found together with White-winged Coot and Red-fronted Coot, and these species can be easily distinguished by sight and usually by vocal differences as well. They feed on aquatic vegetation and small invertebrates, usually in shallow water.
43–51 cm. Large coot, with white undertail-coverts and no white on secondaries; pointed frontal shield , giving somewhat angular profile, and distinct red mark along base of culmen, separating yellow of bill and shield. Colours of bill and shield may vary: shield may be paler yellow than bill; bill sometimes reddish. Legs and feet orange-yellow to yellow, with pale red “garter” above ankle joint; iris usually reddish but can be yellow. Sexes alike. Immature has horn-coloured bill but soon acquires yellow shield; legs and feet olive; in second or third year birds have duller, more olive, legs and feet than adult. Juvenile dull drab grey-brown with white head and neck, mottled dusky from crown to hindneck.
C & S Chile, and SE Brazil and Uruguay S through Argentina to Tierra del Fuego.
Lakes, large ponds, rivers, marshes and deep, clear roadside ditches; rarely seen on small pools but occasionally feeds in protected waters associated with lakes. Sometimes occurs alongside F. leucoptera and F. rufifrons. On Patagonian uplands breeds mainly on exposed shallow lakes with extensive carpets of floating Myriophyllum. Occurs mainly in lowlands, but ascends to 1200 m on barren plateaux of inland Patagonia, up to 1000 m on lakes of S Andes, and breeds at 2100 m in L Volcán, Jujuy (NW Argentina). In winter, can form large agglomerations on sheltered marine bays .
Diet and Foraging
Eats primarily aquatic plants. A skilled diver , obtaining most of food in open, fairly deep water; also upends. Occasionally raids water weeds pulled about by Rosy-billed Pochards (Netta peposaca) and Black-headed Ducks (Heteronetta atricapilla). Also feeds in land , near water.
Sounds and Vocal Behavior
Chile, Oct–Nov with replacement clutches until Jan; Brazil, Nov, large young Feb; Argentina , two peaks, mid-Sept and mid-Oct (latter possibly due to renesting). Normally gregarious, but monogamous, strongly territorial and pugnacious when breeding. Nest a loosely built platform of dried rushes with rim built up; usually in tules of moderate density near open water; sometimes floating; nest area usually free of floating vegetation. May nest alongside F. leucoptera. Eggs 2–8 (mean 5·3); after chicks hatch, nest built up to serve as brood site, or brood nests or platforms often constructed; black downy chick has partly naked pink and blue crown, small orange bristles on throat, black bill with orange band and red shield; young fed by both parents; able do dive quite early in life. Replacement clutches laid after egg loss. Nest parasitism by Heteronetta atricapilla recorded once.
Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Formerly regarded as abundant, and still regarded as common, but very few data available. Concentration of c. 10,400 birds counted in coastal inlet at Puerto Natales, Aug 1992, in company of small numbers of F. leucoptera. No recent record from Paraguay.