Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata)

Surf Scoter

[order] ANSERIFORMES | [family] Anatidae | [latin] Melanitta perspicillata | [authority] Linnaeus, 1758 | [UK] Surf Scoter | [FR] Macreuse a lunettes | [DE] Brillenente | [ES] Negron Careto | [NL] Brilzeeeend


Genus Species subspecies Region Range
Melanitta perspicillata NA n


The scoters are stocky seaducks in the genus Melanitta. The drakes are mostly black and have swollen bills. Females are brown. They breed in the far north of Europe, Asia and North America, and winter further south in temperate zones of those continents. They form large flocks on suitable coastal waters. These are tightly packed, and the birds tend to take off together. Their lined nests are built on the ground close to the sea, lakes or rivers, in woodland or tundra. These species dive for crustaceans and molluscs.

Physical charateristics

The male Surf Scoter has a solid black body and black head with white patches at the back of the head and on the forehead above the eyes. This distinctive pattern has earned this bird the nickname ‘skunk-head coot.’ The bill of the adult male is large, swollen at the base, and yellow-orange with a white and yellow splotch on each side and a black spot on the splotch. The female is mostly dark gray. Her bill is shaped like that of the male, although slightly smaller and mostly gray in color. The female has white patches at the base of her bill and white smudging at her ears and back of her head. Both sexes have white eyes. Juveniles are similar to females but have black eyes.
Scoters spend the non-breeding part of the year in large rafts on the ocean or in open bays and inlets. They forage almost exclusively by diving, taking prey from the ocean floor and also taking mussels from man-made structures. They are strong flyers but must get a running start along the water to get airborne. Males actively defend their mates, keeping other birds at bay.

Listen to the sound of Surf Scoter

[audio: Scoter.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 77 cm wingspan max.: 85 cm
size min.: 45 cm size max.: 56 cm
incubation min.: 28 days incubation max.: 30 days
fledging min.: 21 days fledging max.: 30 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 5  
      eggs max.: 8  


North America : North


Surf Scoters nest on freshwater lakes and wetlands in the Arctic, in sparsely forested and semi-open regions. They winter in open coastal environments, favoring shallow bays and estuaries with rocky substrates.


Surf Scoters probably form pair bonds on the wintering grounds in their second or third year. Nests are built on the ground, hidden by dense brush or low tree branches. They are usually located close to water, but can be some distance away. The nest is a well-concealed, shallow depression on the ground, lined with vegetation and down. The female typically lays 5 to 9 eggs (usually 7) and incubates them for about 28 to 30 days, although the incubation period is not well known. The pair bond dissolves, and the male leaves soon after incubation begins. The young leave the nest shortly after hatching and can feed themselves, although the female tends them and leads them to food-rich areas. In dense breeding areas, mixing of broods may occur. The female abandons the chicks before they can fly (at about 55 days), and multiple broods often join to form creches.

Feeding habits

During winter, mollusks and crustaceans are the most common food items. During the breeding season, aquatic insect larvae become a predominant part of the diet. Surf Scoters also eat other aquatic invertebrates and pondweeds.

Video Surf Scoter


copyright: youtube


This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Continent-wide (Nearctic), Surf Scoters may have gone through a serious decline early in the 20th Century, but now appear to be numerous with a stable population. There is evidence of a long-term decline in the West, and large die-offs were observed in the early 1990s at coastal reefs in southeastern Alaska. The cause of these die-offs is unknown, but pesticides or other contaminants are the suspected cause. The population is vulnerable to oil spills on the wintering grounds and disturbance and habitat destruction as a result of oil drilling on breeding grounds.
Surf Scoter status Least Concern


Migratory. Winters Pacific coasts from Aleutian Islands and south-east Alaska to Baja California, and in Atlantic from south Newfoundland and Gulf of St Lawrence to Florida.

Distribution map

Surf Scoter distribution range map


Title Surf scoters Melanitta perspicillata aggregate in association with ephemerally abundant polychaetes
Author(s): Deborah Lise Lacroix, Sean Boyd, Dan Esler1, Molly Kirk
Abstract: […] During the week of 16-23 April 2003, we obse..[more]..
Source: Marine Ornithology 33: 61-63 (2005)

download full text (pdf)

Title Surf Scoters Melanitta perspicillata aggregate in association with ephemerally abundant polychaetes
Author(s): LACROIX, D.L, BOYD. Et al.
Abstract: Surf Scoters Melanitta perspicillata spend a large..[more]..
Source: Marine Ornithology 33: 61-63

download full text (pdf)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *