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Surf Scoter


IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Surf Scoter Photo

A black-and-white seaduck common on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts in winter, the Surf Scoter has a boldly patterned head that is the basis for its colloquial name "skunk-headed coot."

At a GlanceHelp

Both Sexes
18.9–23.6 in
48–60 cm
30.3 in
77 cm
33.6–62.4 oz
953–1769 g
Other Names
  • Macreuse à front blanc (French)
  • Negreta nuca blanco (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • The Surf Scoter breeds on freshwater lakes, where the male defends a moving area around the female. The female with a brood is not territorial.
  • Accidental exchanges of young among Surf Scoter broods are frequent on crowded lakes. Because the mother provides no parental care other than guarding the chicks, evolutionary selection to prevent such mixups may not be very strong.
  • Nonbreeding Surf Scoters (mainly immatures) do not necessarily go to the breeding grounds in summer. Instead they spend the summer primarily along marine coasts southward to Baja California and New Jersey, where they frequent bays and estuaries.
  • The oldest recorded Surf Scoter was a male, and at least 11 years, 7 months old when he was found in Maryland in 2015. He had been banded in the Newfoundland/Labrador area in 2004.



Breeds on shallow lakes in boreal forest and tundra. Winters in shallow marine coastal waters, usually over pebble and sand bottom.



Freshwater invertebrates, especially mollusks.


Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
6–9 eggs
Egg Description
Creamy white.
Condition at Hatching
Downy and eyes open. Leave nest soon after they dry. Feed themselves immediately.
Nest Description

Hollow in ground near water, lined with vegetative debris and down.

Nest Placement



Surface Dive

Dives for prey on or near bottom.


status via IUCN

Least Concern

There is little information on Surf Scoter population trends. The species is common, but populations may be declining. Surf Scoter is not on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List.


  • Savard, J.-P. L., D. Bordage, and A. Reed. 1998. Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata). In The Birds of North America, No. 363 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.
  • Bellrose, F. C. 1976. Ducks, Geese, and Swans of North America. Stackpole Books, Harrisburg, PA.
  • North American Bird Conservation Initiative, U.S. Committee. 2014. State of the Birds 2014 Report. U.S. Department of Interior, Washington, DC.
  • USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. 2015. Longevity records of North American Birds.

Range Map Help

Surf Scoter Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

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