The moorhen is nearly as aquatic as the ordinary ducks, and the coot, which is abundant in India and Burma, though absent from Ceylon, bears the same relation to it as the diving ducks do to these, keeping almost constantly afloat and getting much of its food below water; it dives with a spring like the whistling ducks, and especially searches for water snails ; it also feeds on weeds, and I have seen one capture a small fish, not by diving, but by suddenly ducking its head under. Grain is also readily devoured if obtainable. Coots are in fact constantly seen in association with ducks in India, and may easily be, and no doubt often are, mistaken for them; but the entirely black plumage, and white bill and forehead-patch are very distinct differences from any duck, and even when these points are not noticeable, the rounded back and small head carried well forward -distinguish these swimming rails from the duck family. Coots also rise less readily than most ducks, and though often exceedingly numerous, get up individually and not in flocks. They are often so mixed up with the ducks they associate with that many may be killed by accident; few people would make them a special object of pursuit, as they are not birds to eat when ducks are obtainable, having a rank, oily skin, and a great tendency to ossification in the drumstick tendons!
Hume, however, says that coots as well as rails and crakes " will furnish a savoury enough dish if, instead of plucking them, you skin them and then soak the bodies for a couple of hours in cold water (which should be changed at least twice) before putting them into the stew-pan, with onions, and, if you can get it, sage."
When brought to hand, the coot, if not killed dead, will give plenty of proof that it is not a duck by the vigour of its scratches; the feet are not only provided with particularly strong claws, but are webbed, in a curious manner, with a separate scalloped bordering web to each toe, for no rail, not even such a very aquatic species as this, has any web between the toes. Coots walk quite well, but are not often to be seen doing so ; they nest among the aquatic vegetation, or even on the bottom of shallow water, building the nests up into islands, and using a large quantity of material, chiefly rushes. The eggs are pale buff or drab with copious sprinklings of black, and about as big as hens' eggs ; the young chicks are black, but show bright tinting of red, blue, and yellow about the heads. The breeding season is a rather extended one, beginning in May with the birds inhabiting the hills, while in the plains birds are to be found nesting after June; but a large proportion of the coots to be found in India in winter are only migrants from the north, the bird having a wide range all across the old world, and being familiar in Britain among other European countries, though not nearly so common as the moorhen. Its familiarity to natives is attested by its names, Burr a go dan in Burmah, and Bolikodi in the Telugu language, while other Hindustani names besides that given above are Khekari, Khuskul, and Ari.