Surf Scoter: Waterfowl Wednesday

We are almost a month into winter, so I thought it would a great time for a Waterfowl Wednesday post. If you’ve been following me for awhile, you know that I love waterfowl, and winter is the best time to look for different species. For new readers, waterfowl is any bird that is a duck, goose, or swan. So without further ado, today’s featured species is Surf Scoter.

Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata)

Description:

  • Black-and white, medium-sized sea duck
  • Has no white on wings
  • Wedge shaped heads
  • Males: distinct swollen bill of orange, white, red, yellow, and a dark black spot. Yellowish-white or blue-gray eyes. Red-orange feet with dusky webs. White patches on nape of neck and forehead.
  • Females: Dark crown on head and neck. White patches below and behind eyes. Plain, sloping greenish-black bill. Pale gray, yellow, or brown eyes. Brown to yellow-colored feet with black webs.
  • Juvenile: Similar to female, but has brown eyes, white belly and whiter face patches
Male Surf Scoter (Image by BirdNation)
Female Surf Scoter (Image by BirdNation)

Range

  • Breeding: exclusively breeds in North America, specifically Alaska and Northern Canada
  • Winter: Pacific and Atlantic Coasts, sometimes Gulf Coast
  • Migration: Migrates in flocks over coastal waters, sometimes using lakes for stop-over sites. Migrates through parts of Canada, the Great Lakes, and some New England and Mid-Atlantic States.

Habitat

In winter, oceans and salt bays. In summer, tundra, lakes, and semi-open terrains.

Diet

Mainly mollusks, aquatic invertebrates, crustaceans, aquatic insects, some plant material. Surf Scoters are diving ducks. 

Breeding/Nesting

  • Courtship: Many males will try to impress a female using display flights, swimming back and forth with neck up, or exaggerated bows. Pair bonds form on wintering grounds.
  • Nesting: Shallow depression on the ground away from water, usually well hidden.
  • Young: Female incubates 5-9 eggs and tends to the chicks after hatching. Chicks are precocial, meaning they leave the nest shortly after hatching and can feed themselves.
Female and male Surf Scoters at Barnegat Light, NJ (Image by BirdNation)

Vocalizations

Usually silent, but sometimes guttural croaking. Wings in flight make a whistling sound.

Conservation

Population trends are not well known, but are mostly stable.

Fun Facts

  • Egg hatching is synchronous among eggs, meaning they will all hatched around the same time.
  • Similar species to the Surf Scoter are Black Scoters and White-winged Scoters. However, Surf Scoters can be distinguish from other scoter species by their unique bills, white patches on the head, and completely black wings.
  • Flocks can vary in size from 2 to 500 individuals, but can be larger during migration. Surf Scoters frequently flock with Black Scoters, but most other species of ducks can be found among Surf Scoters. They tend to fly in disorganized lines that are constantly fluctuating.