Unsorted Wild Birds

Surf Scoter

The Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata) is a large sea duck, which breeds in Canada and Alaska.

It is 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 USA.

In November 2007, an oil spill in the San Francisco harbour oiled and killed thousands of birds including many Surf Scoters. About 40 percent of the birds affected were from this species. Scientists said that while the species is not endangered it has declined 50 to 70 percent over the past 40 years and this spill could decrease populations since most of the affected birds are healthy adults.

Small numbers regularly winter in western Europe as far south as Great Britain and Ireland. Some birds may over-winter on the Great Lakes.

It forms large flocks on suitable coastal waters. These are tightly packed, and the birds tend to take off together.

Breeding / Nesting:

The lined nest is built on the ground close to the sea, lakes, or rivers, in woodland or tundra.

5-9 eggs are laid.


The adult female averages about 900 grams (2 lbs.) and 44 cm (17 inches) in length, while the adult male is on average 1050 grams (2.3 lbs.) and 48 cm (19 inches) in length, making this the smallest species of scoter on average. It is characterised by its bulky shape and large bill.

The male is all black, except for white patches on the nape and forehead. It has a bulbous red, yellow, and white bill.

The females are brown birds with pale head patches. The wedge-shaped head and lack of white in the wings help to distinguish female Surf Scoters from female Velvet Scoters.

Breeding / Nesting:

The lined nest is built on the ground close to the sea, lakes, or rivers, in woodland or tundra. 5-9 eggs are laid.

An egg may range from 55-79 grams (1.9-2.8 oz) and average 43.9 mm (1.7 inches) in breadth and 62.4 mm (2.5 inches) in length. Occasional (and likely accidental) brood mixing between different females occurs in areas with high densities of nests.

Growth is relatively rapid and the incubation period is about 28 to 30 days. The offspring will fledge independently at about 55 days.

Diet / Feeding:

Adult scoters of this species dive for crustaceans and mollusks, while the ducklings live off any variety of freshwater invertebrates.

More Duck Resources

Diet / Feeding:

Surf Scoter dives for their main foods consisting of crustaceans and mollusks.

Ducks generally feed on larvae and pupae usually found under rocks, aquatic animals, plant material, seeds, small fish, snails, and crabs.


Gordon Ramel

Gordon is an ecologist with two degrees from Exeter University. He's also a teacher, a poet and the owner of 1,152 books. Oh - and he wrote this website.

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