home   about   search

biodiversity explorer

the web of life in southern Africa

Fulica cristata (Red-knobbed coot)

Bleshoender [Afrikaans]; Unomkqayi, Unompemvana [Xhosa]; Mohetle, Mohoetle, Tšumu, Boleseboko [South Sotho]; Nhapata (generic name for coot, gallinule, moorhen, crake or rail) [Shona]; Kukumezani (generic name for moorhen or coot) [Tsonga]; Kgogonoka [Tswana]; Knobbelmeerkoet [Dutch]; Foulque à crête [French]; Kammbleßhuhn [German]; Galeirão-de-crista [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Gruiformes > Family: Rallidae

Fulica cristata (Red-knobbed coot)
Red-knobbed coot, Rondevlei Nature Reserve, South Africa. [photo Duncan Robertson ©]. Red-knobbed coot adult at nest, West Coast National Park, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]
Fulica cristata (Red-knobbed coot)
Red-knobbed coot, Table View, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

Distribution and habitat

Occurs from southern Spain to Morocco and Algeria, with a separate population in sub-Saharan Africa. Within southern Africa it is common in South Africa, also occupying Namibia, northern and south-eastern Botswana, Zimbabwe and southern Mozambique. It generally prefers freshwater ponds, lakes, vleis, dams, flood plains, temporary pans, swamps with reeds (Phragmites), Bulrushes (Typha capensis) and Papyrus (Cyperus papyrus), sewage ponds and occasionally rivers.

Distribution of Red-knobbed coot in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Predators and parasites

  • Predators
  • Parasites
    • Rhipicephalus tricuspis (ticks)
    • Laemobothrion atrum (bird lice)

Movements and migrations

Mainly nomadic, travelling in response to rainfall (which creates temporary pans), often taking refuge at permanent wetlands in drought years.


Mainly eats plant material, supplemented with molluscs, crustaceans and insects, doing most of its foraging in shallow water, standing or swimming in search of food on the water surface. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

  • Plants
    • filamentous algae (Chlorophyceae)
    • Chara globularis (macroscopic alga)
    • Marsilia (aquatic ferns)
    • whole plants of Aeschynomene fuitans (knuckle-beans)
    • stems, leaves and fruits
      • Persicaria limbata (Knotweed)
      • Potamagetion pectinatus (Fennel-leaved pondweed)
    • stems and leaves
      • Najas pectinata (Saw-weed)
      • Ruppia maritima (Ditch grass)
      • Eichhornia crassipes (Water hyacinth)
      • Panicum repens (Torpedo grass)
    • leaves
      • Paspalum distichum (Couch paspalum)
      • Zostera capensis (Cape eelgrass)
  • Invertebrates
    • molluscs
      • Musculus virgiliae (bivalves)
      • Gastropods
    • crustaceans
      • Upogebia africana (Estuarine mudprawn)


  • Monogamous, territorial solitary nester, breeding cooperatively in small groups.
  • The nest (see image below) is built by both sexes and occasionally juvenile helpers, consisting of a floating pile of sedge, reed, Bulrush (Typha capensis) and weed stems, leaves and grass. It is typically placed in deep water out in the open or among vegetation.
Fulica cristata (Red-knobbed coot)  

Red-knobbed coots building their nest, Marievale, South Africa. [photo Warwick Tarboton ©]

  • Egg-laying season is year-round, peaking from about July-November.
  • It lays 2-6, rarely up to 11 eggs, which are incubated by both sexes for about 18-25 days, changing over frequently.
  • The chicks leave the nest within a day of hatching and are cared for by both parents and juvenile helpers. They are divided into groups, each cared for by one or two adults, eventually fledging at approximately 55-60 days old.


Not threatened, in fact it has greatly benefited from the construction of man-made impoundments, although poisoning (both unintentional and intentional) is cause for concern.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.