SURF SCOTER

SURF SCOTER(Melanitta perspicillata)

The Surf Scoter is a diving sea duck that measures around 45 cm (18 in.) long. The drake is mainly black with a white patch on the forehead and the nape. The bill, thick at its base, is what distinguishes this species – in the drake it is black on top near the base, then becomes red down to the nostrils, then has an orange stripe to the tip and some orange and red on each side near the base, and white on the side and under. Finally, it has a black square patch within the white side. The eyes are white and the feet are pinkish red.

Females are mainly brown with a darker head, a white nape and two small white patches on the cheek on each side of the eye, and below the latter. The bill is dark. Juveniles are similar to the female but with lighter under parts..

The English name of this scoter, ‘Surf’, stems from the fact that it uses wave breaks to dive for its prey being up-welled by the wave action. The name ‘Scoter’ would be a variation of ‘coot’, a name used by hunters of this duck. The Latin name ‘Melanitta’, means ‘black duck’, and ‘perspicillata’ means ‘spectacled’ or ‘to see through’, probably in reference to the ability of this duck to hunt by sight.

The surf scoter feeds mainly on bottom-dwelling invertebrates such as crustaceans, snails and shellfish, which they swallow whole, i.e. including the shells. The nest is build out of a depression on the ground in a well-sheltered located with water. Parents do not care for their young, which are capable of feeding themselves right from birth.

Although the surf scoter does not breed on PEI, it is a fairly common duck in spring and fall on the island during migration, and uncommon in the summer because it breeds in the northern Canadian forests and in Alaska. Although some individuals have been observed on PEI in the winter, it main wintering areas include the eastern and western coasts of the USA, the British Columbia coast and the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

Conservation: although the breeding populations are not well studied, there seems to be a decline in the numbers of the surf scoter, but not enough yet to justify a listing of some ‘concern’. This duck is vulnerable to habitat loss from oil drilling in its breeding range and coastal pollution in its wintering range.

Surf Scoter holding a crab - Elk River, Humboldt Cy, CA - Dec. 28, 2009 - J.P. Smith
Surf Scoter holding a crab – Elk River, Humboldt Cy, CA – Dec. 28, 2009 – J.P. Smith
Surf Scoter (Male), Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, Huntington Beach, California
Surf Scoter (Male), Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, Huntington Beach, California – Alan D. Wilson
Surf Scoter (Female), Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, Huntington Beach, California
Surf Scoter (Female), Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, Huntington Beach, California – Alan D. Wilson

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