WHITE-WINGED SCOTER – (Melanitta deglandi)
The White-winged Scoter is a large diving bird at some 60 cm (24 in.) long. The drake is black except for a small white curved line under the white eye, and white wing secondaries. It is the only scoter in North America with white on the wings, which makes it easy to identify in flight. The bill has a thick black knob at the base and the tip is yellow-orange. The legs are pink orange. Females and juveniles are dark brown with the same white patch on the wings, and two white patches on the cheeks under the eye. The knobbed bill is dark brown or grey.
This scoter’s Latin name ‘Melanitta’ means ‘black duck’, and ‘deglandi’ derives from the name of French ornithologist Côme Damien Degland, as the bird was named in his honor. The English name ‘scoter’ would be a variation of ‘coot’, a name used by hunters of this duck.
This scoter species inhabits northern lakes and rivers and feeds on various types of clams, on crustaceans and insects, but also on some vegetation such as sea lettuce or seeds. White-winged scoters swallow their prey whole, even shellfish. Nests are built on the ground, preferably on a lake island. Several nests may be located in the same area, which might trigger some conflicts between females. As a result sometimes a mother might end up with many more young than her own clutch. The young are able to feed themselves from birth.
Although the white-winged scoter does not breed on PEI, it is common on the island in the spring and fall during migration, but uncommon in the summer as it breeds in open country in the north west part of Canada and in Alaska, and also in Siberia east of the middle section. White-winged scoters are rare to fairly common on PEI in the winter, depending on the ice conditions on the water. Their wintering grounds cover the coasts of North America as well as of Asia.
Conservation: white-winged scoters used to breed in the Prairie Pothole region but due to conversion to agriculture they no longer breed there, as well as many other duck species. Although not currently listed as a species of concern, the white-winged scoter is vulnerable to habitat degradation from oil spills and accumulation of toxins in one of its main sources of food, the blue mussel.