Surf Scoter

Melanitta perspicillata
Surf Scoter specimens on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

A medium-sized duck (19 inches), the male Surf Scoter is most easily identified by its all-black body, orange-and-white bill, and white patches on the neck and forehead. The female is dark brown rather than black, and lacks the males’ white patches and bright bill. Duck hunters often refer to scoters as “coots,” although their resemblance to “real” coots is limited to their shared dark body pattern and is entirely superficial. The Surf Scoter breeds locally in Alaska, western Canada, and along the eastern shore of the Hudson Bay. Small numbers may breed elsewhere in Canada, but these areas are vast and difficult to explore, even in the warmer months. In winter, this species may be found along the Pacific coast from Alaska south to Baja California, on the Atlantic coast from Newfoundland south to Florida, and along the Gulf coast from Florida to east Texas. Surf Scoters breed in ponds and lakes in northern forest near the tree line at the edge of the tundra. In winter, this species may be found in saltwater estuaries, bays, and near-shore waters along the coast. Surf Scoters primarily eat bottom-dwelling mollusks and crustaceans, but also eat fish and, in summer, insects as well. Due to the relative inaccessibility of this species’ breeding grounds, most birdwatchers are more familiar with Surf Scoters during the winter. At this time of year, Surf Scoters are most easily observed out at sea through binoculars or spotting scopes, and may be seen floating in large flocks on the water, diving below the surface in pursuit of prey, or flying in lines over the tops of the waves. This species is primarily active during the day.

DC Information

Abundant migrant and winter resident from mid-October to early March, seen mostly along the littoral zone of the Eastern Shore. The male is black, the female brown.

Specimen Information

This record is for the male, the bird on the left.
Date:  11/30/1914
Collected By:  Wm Palmer
Locality:  Plum Point, Calvert Co, MD
Sex:  Male
Catalog ID:  236709
The bird on the right is a female.

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species