Living Bird Magazine
Living Bird Magazine
Surf ScoterMelanitta perspicillata
- ORDER: Anseriformes
- FAMILY: Anatidae
The black-and-white patches on the heads of male Surf Scoters prompted this sea duck’s nickname “old skunkhead,” although the big, sloping orange bill is at least as distinctive. In winter, look for these dark-bodied ducks (and the browner females) near to shore, defying ocean waves with a quick dive just before they break. They breed in far northern Canada and Alaska, where the boreal forest gives way to open tundra.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Look for this widespread and numerous sea duck in winter along both Atlantic and Pacific coastlines. They’re often in large flocks, and often with with all-dark Black Scoters and larger White-winged Scoters, so it’s worth looking carefully through groups, especially if you have or can borrow a spotting scope. Despite their seagoing habits, they do occur inland on lakes and reservoirs during migration, especially during storms as they wait for better weather.
- Negrón Careto (Spanish)
- Macreuse à front blanc (French)
- Cool Facts
- Surf Scoters are “molt migrants,” meaning that after nesting, adults fly to an area where they can molt their flight feathers. They briefly become flightless before continuing to their wintering range, and molting areas provide some protection from weather and predators. These spots include sheltered waters from southeastern Alaska to Washington’s Puget Sound, and Quebec and New Brunswick.
- Surf Scoters breed on freshwater lakes, where the male defends a moving area around the female. The female with a brood is not territorial.
- On crowded lakes, young Surf Scoters often switch from one brood to another. Because the mother provides no parental care other than guarding the chicks, evolutionary selection against such mix-ups may not be very strong.
- Some Surf Scoters (mainly immatures) skip the summer trip north to breeding grounds, and hang around bays and estuaries southward to Baja California or New Jersey.
- 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.