WatchList Species Account for Hawaiian Coot (Fulica alai)

Qualifies for the list as a Red List Species


Hawaiian Coot
Photo: Bill Hubick

Long regarded as a subspecies of the American Coot, the Hawaiian Coot is endemic to the islands, breeding on Ni’ihau, Kaua’i, O’ahu, Moloka’i, Maui, and Hawai’i. It breeds at only a relatively few sites, mostly on natural freshwater ponds, flooded taro fields, reservoirs, sewage-treatment ponds, and brackish fish ponds. The Hawaiian Coot is a familiar sight near beaches, golf courses, and other areas frequented by people.


This species declined steeply during the 20th century, and now numbers between 2,000 to 4,000 individuals, about 80% of these on Kaua'i, Maui, and O'ahu. It is nomadic and wanders between the islands in search of suitable water bodies. Peak coot numbers follow years of high rainfall.


The bird builds its nest on the water’s surface anchored to floating algal mats or stems of emergent plants. Like the American Coot, it feeds by both dabbling and diving and probably takes similar foods. Reportedly it eats seeds and leaves and stems of aquatic plants and lagoon mollusks.


Threats include alien plants invading waters and making them unuseable by the bird, introduced predators including cats, dogs, and mongoose, and native predators such as Black-crowned Night-Herons, poisoning by pesticides and herbicides, and avian botulism, which has caused heavy mortality, especially on Hawaii. The bird was formerly hunted, but hunting was prohibited in 1939 and the species has been fully protected since 1973.


Since the Hawaiian Coot was so long considered a subspecies of the American Coot, it has been the subject of little study. However, it is the most numerous of Hawaii’s endangered wetland birds. Key wetland areas have now been acquired for the species, and the coot is federally listed as endangered and classified as vulnerable by BirdLife International.