Often mistaken for a type of duck, Coots are actually members of the same family as Gallinules and Rails. With a name like “Coot” you might be picturing a buffoonish bird, and you’d be right in guessing that the Coot is a bit goofy, but these aquatic birds are more interesting than you might think.
In some cultures, it is believed that the Coot was present when the world was made. Variations on this myth even credit the Coot with creating the earth beneath our feet. Coots are widespread, fascinating, and inspiring birds. Their unique adaptations allow them to move easily in water and on land in ways that differ from ducks. Although the name is not a total mismatch, their is much more to the Coot than mere silliness. (1)(2)
Coot Symbolism and Meaning
Before diving into all of the fantastic and unexpected ideas associated with the Coot, let’s first discuss the obvious. Coots are associated with silliness, foolishness, or craziness due to their names. The name “Coot” was given to these birds when the scientific name for the Coot genus was assigned. The scientific name “Fulica” means “coot” in Latin. So, craziness has been associated with Coots for centuries. This reputation might come from the Coot’s looks, which are charmingly goofy, or from the way that Coots bob their heads as they swim. In any case, the Coot is firmly associated with eccentricity, oddballs, and zaniness. (3)
One of the features that makes Coots somewhat unusual to look at is their feet. Instead of having webbed feet like ducks do, Coots have long slender toes with round lobes of skin on them. These lobes allow the Coot to swim through the water similarly to a duck, but whilst on land these feet are much more effective for navigating terrain. Because of this, Coots may represent versatility, adaptability, or hidden talents. (4)
Coots are excellent at navigating both land and a wide variety of bodies of water. When it comes to flight, though, Coots tend to be somewhat ungainly and clumsy. In order to take flight, Coots often have to achieve a running start for several meters before finally getting airborne. So, the Coot may represent clumsiness, patience, or a lack of coordination. (5)
Coots are often found in large flocks. These flocks can sometimes number into the thousands and may be mixed with other water birds. These groups are often heard before they are seen. Coots are chatty birds which make an array of different vocalizations and alarm calls. So, Coots may be associated with cooperation, sociability, community, and communication.
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Coot Native American Symbolism
Several Native American traditions cast the Coot in the role of “earth-diver.” The “earth-diver” is a common Native American myth in which several animals try and fail to dive to the bottom of a primordial body of water. The animal which succeeds varies based on the region and culture. In any case, the successful animal brings up a clump of mud which becomes the land. From muskrats to grebes, the earth-diver role belongs to a slew of different creatures, but in several Native American cultures, the earth-diver is a Coot. (6)
So, the Coot may represent creation, perseverance, and new beginnings.
Aquatic birds in Native American cultures are often connected with the weather. They are thought to bring rain or to predict weather conditions. So, the Coot may be connected to storms, rain, and weather as well as divination and the future.
Coot Christianity Symbolism
Coots are not birds who hold a major role in biblical symbolism. Neither present in the Bible nor featured in much religious literature, these birds can at least be seen as broadly representing the beauty and balance of the natural world as set forth by God.
Some Christian symbology sources list the Coot as a symbol of faith. I cannot locate a definitive or historical source for this idea, but symbolism is fluid so a lack of sources does not necessarily invalidate this idea. (7)
Coot Celtic Symbolism
Similarly, Coots don’t hold any major significance in Celtic traditions, however their noisy calls are claimed, by some unverified sources, to be associated with or mistaken for evil spirits.
Birds in Celtic myths and traditions are usually connected with the Otherworld. Aquatic birds are especially potent in this connection because of their ability to traverse a multitude of different worlds. As a master of land and water, and too a lesser extent, sky, the Coot represents transitions, liminal spaces, and the supernatural.
Coot in Dreams
Dreaming of a Coot might be a sign to let some levity into your life. The Coot acts as a reminder not to take oneself too seriously and to find ways to laugh at the things that one finds embarrassing. Dreaming of the Coot is a great opportunity to take a breath and remember that everything doesn’t have to be gravely serious at all times.
Dreaming of a Coot may also represent feeling untethered or unstable. Coots tend to build floating nests woven from reeds and foliage. These floating rafts of debris are attached to stalks and contain clutches of up to a dozen Coot eggs. Dreaming of a Coot, especially a nesting Coot or a Coot chick, might indicate that you feel vulnerable and desperate for some solid ground. (8)
Coot dreams may also refer to social bonds. Coots gather in large flocks which may even include other aquatic birds. Dreaming of a Coot may indicate a desire to strengthen one’s social support system and build connections with as many people as possible. The only way to make friends is to put yourself out there, so overcoming fears and insecurities is a must.
Coot Encounters and Omens
A Coot encounter may represent introspection. Coots are known to dive beneath the water to forage for food. In addition, watching them bob on the water shows you only a small part of their unique virtues. From the chest up they resemble small ducks, but the feet of Coots are what sets them apart and gives them a unique set of strengths. A Coot encounter reminds you not to measure yourself against others, because you may be missing a key strength or weakness that you cannot see from the surface.
Coot encounters may also represent areas of one’s life where one feels unskilled or clumsy. Coots are not as skilled in the air as many other birds, but they can still fly. The Coot reminds you to be patient with yourself. Not every skill must be mastered and everything takes time. No matter how clumsy it is, with a good running start the Coot can take to the sky. Make sure you give yourself the time and space to grow before assuming the worst of your abilities.
Coot in Mythology & Folklore
Found in a number of Native American traditions, as well as a few other cultural traditions around the world, Coots are inspirational birds which have a wider impact than their small frames and understated appearance might lead one to believe.
Native American Mythology:
According to the Cheyenne version of the aforementioned “earth-diver” myth, the Coot was the last of the birds to try diving down into the depths of the primordial sea at the behest of the creator. After diving to the bottom, the Coot brought up a clump of mud. The creator wanted to shape this mud, so she asked a volunteer from the animals to hold the mud on its back while the creator worked. The turtle was the only volunteer. So, the Coot and the turtle are thought of as assistants to the creator and are associated with the creation of our earth. (9)
In Hawaiian mythology, the Coot is known for its chattiness and is thought to give warning when danger is near. (10)
Coots are present, though more sparingly than other aquatic birds, in ancient Egyptian art. The aquatic birds, like the Coot, which live on the Nile are extremely important to Egyptian mythology, with many of them playing roles as spirits or deities. The Nile was thought to be a barrier between the kingdoms of the living and the dead. So, the birds that live their are associated with the afterlife and the transition between this world and the next. (11)
In one Hindu story, a fox, Coot, monkey, and hare are living as hermits when a god appears to them in the form of a mendicant. The god asks each animal to provide food for him to eat. The fox steals food from a human dwelling, the monkey brings fruits form a tree, the Coot catches fish for him, but the hare offers nothing but his own flesh. Because of this, the god declares the hare to be a true hermit and accepts his sacrifice. (12)
According to Greek mythology, Porphyrion was king of the giants and an enemy of the gods. He waged war against Olympus and attempted to violate Hera, the queen of the gods. In the end Porphyrion was struck down by Zeus. The name “Porphyrion” means “Purple Coot.” (13)
Coot Spirit Animal
If the Coot is your spirit animal then you are likely outgoing, sociable, and kind. People with the Coot spirit enjoy socializing, making friends, and connecting with others. The Coot spirit animal is often found in people who try their best to see the good traits in others and to dive beneath the surface before judging someone.
The Coot spirit animal does things at its own pace. People with this spirit animal may have been made to feel inept or stupid in school, but this is not true. The Coot spirit just needs time to learn new things and master new skills. With the proper time and space, the Coot spirit is both intelligent and insightful.
Coot Totem Animal
People who have the Coot as their totem animal are versatile. While they rarely find themselves to be successful on their first attempt, the Coot totem animal imbues them with the courage to try new things and the wisdom to never fear failure.
Because the Coot totem animal accepts failures as opportunities to grow, this totem is often found in people who have a broad range of skills and experiences and are always open to trying out more new things. The Coot totem may seem reserved, but it is extremely courageous.
Coot Power Animal
If your power animal is the Coot, then you can rely on this bird’s strength to guide you through periods of transition. The Coot is built for transitions. With feet that function as though they were webbed in the water, but that easily navigate land thanks to their unique toes, Coots are excellent at transitioning between worlds.
Count on the Coot power animal during big changes. New jobs, new homes, and new family dynamics can all be difficult to navigate, but the Coot will help you get your sea legs quickly and adapt to the changes that come your way.
Coot Tattoo Meaning
A Coot tattoo may represent silliness. Coots are goofy-looking birds whose appearance is represented in their names. Playfulness, humor, and fun are also connected with a Coot tattoo.
A Coot tattoo may hold cultural significance for Native American individuals. Such a tattoo represents the creation of the earth and the stories that have been passed down from one’s ancestors.
A tattoo of a Coot may also represent versatility, cooperation, communication, or clumsiness.
Thanks to the Coot’s difficulty taking off, a Coot tattoo may be a reminder to give yourself enough time and space to shine.
While Coots definitely do embody some of the zaniness that their name implies, it is plain to see that there is much more to this bird than its name. From fascinating cultural traditions which connect Coots to ideas as important and broad as creation itself to interesting adaptations which set them apart from other aquatic birds, Coots are both interesting and inspirational birds.
2 thoughts on “Coot Symbolism & Meaning (+Totem, Spirit & Omens)”
Being called an “Old Coot” will seem like praise now.
There’s definitely something special about old coots!
— Hailey Brophy
Writer @ WorldBirds