Surf Scoter, Melanitta perspicilliata

The Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicilliata) is a sea duck of large size, which breeds in Canada and Alaska. It’s placed in the subgenus Melanitta, along with the Velvet and White-winged Scoters, distinct from the subgenus Oidemia, Black and Common Scoters.

It winters further south in temperate zones, on the coasts of the northern United States. Small numbers regularly winter in Western Europe as far south as the British Isles. It creates large flocks on suitable coastal waters. These flocks are tightly packed, and the birds tend to take off all together.

The nest is lined and it is built on the ground nearby the sea, lakes or rivers, in woodland or tundra. The clutch consists of around 5 to 9 eggs. An egg may range from 1.9 to 2.8 ounces and averages 1.7 inches in breadth and 2.5 inches in length. Occasional brood mixing between different females happens in areas with high densities of nests. Growth is quite rapid and the incubation period is about 28 to 30 days. The offspring will then fledge independently at about 55 days.

The adult female averages about 2 pounds and 17 inches in length, while the adult male is, on average, 2.3 pounds and 19 inches long, making this the smallest species of scoter on average. It’s characterized by its bulky shape and its large bill. The male individual is all black, except for white patches on the nape and on the forehead. It has a bulbous red, yellow, and white colored bill. The female individuals are brown with pale head patches. The wedge-shaped head and the lack of white in the wings help to distinguish female Surf Scoters from female Velvet Scoters.

This species consumes crustaceans and mollusks. The ducklings live off of any variety of freshwater invertebrates.

Image Caption: Melanitta perspicillata – Surf Scoter (Male), Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, Huntington Beach, California. Credit: Alan D. Wilson/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 2.5)