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Surf Scoter

Melanitta perspicillata

Diving Ducks Family

Waterfowl Identification

Male Surf Scoter
Female Surf Scoter
Similar Waterfowl:
Female White Winged Scooter
Male surf scoters are entirely black with a white patch on the forehead and a larger white triangle on the nape. They have large bills, which are swollen on the top and truncated on the sides, with black feathers extending to near the nostrils. The bill is white, red, yellow and black, appearing mostly orange from a distance. The legs and feet are reddish-orange with dusky webs and the iris is white. The female surf scoter is fairly uniformly colored dark to black-brown with occasional whitish feathers. There are two whitish patches on the cheeks below the eyes. The bill is greenish-black or bluish-black. The legs and feet are dull orange and the iris is pale or brown. Female plumages of all scoter species are similar. It can be differentiated from the black scoter by the more sloping forehead and white face patches.
Typical Size:
The male and female average 19 inches in length and weigh 2 pounds. They have a wingspan of 32 inches.
Surf scoters prefer brushy tundra or wooded areas near a pond, bog or stream.
The surf scoter occurs only in North America. They are virtually unstudied, particularly during the breeding season. Surf scoters breed on freshwater and shallow lakes found in the closed and open boreal forests of northern Canada and Alaska. Female surf scoters lay an average of 5 to 8 eggs.
The surf scoter feeds mainly on mollusks, crustaceans, aquatic insects, small fishes, and on green plant matter such as pondweed. Rarely diving in water that exceeds 30 feet deep, they forage in the zone of breaking waves, easily diving through wave crests.
Western surf scoters molt along the coast of British Columbia and Alaska, and in the Bering Sea. Eastern surf scoters molt along the Labrador coast, in the St. Lawrence estuary and along the eastern coast of Hudson Bay. During migration, they use coastal estuaries, inshore ocean areas, and occasionally freshwater habitats near the coast. They winter in shallow marine coastal waters along coastal North America and south to the northern Gulf of Mexico coast.
Flyway Patterns:
The surf scoter can commonly be found along the coastal flyways.
Flight Formation:
Large flocks in a irregular formation. They fly low over water and have a strong and direct flight. Their labored wing beats make a humming sound and they reach speeds of 60 MPH.
The males have a low guttural QUACK and the females have a low CLUCK.

Surf Scoter Flight Characteristics

This guide will help you recognize Surf Scoter on the wing - it emphasizes their size, shape, and flight characteristics. Like all scoters, these birds migrate in loose flocks resembling irregular wavy lines, but when in feeding areas their flight is direct and usually close to the waves . Drakes have two white patches on their head and their bills are white, red, yellow and black, appearing mostly orange from a distance.