Surf Scoter

About the Surf Scoter


The surf scoter occurs only in North America. They are virtually unstudied, particularly during the breeding season. Surf scoters breed on shallow freshwater lakes found in the closed and open Boreal Forests of northern Canada and Alaska. Female surf scoters prefer to nest in brushy tundra or wooded areas near a pond, bog or stream and lay an average of 5-8 eggs.

Latin: Melanitta perspicillata

Average length: M 19.7", F 18.5"

Average weight: M 2.2 lbs., F 2.0 lbs.


Male surf scoters are entirely black with a white patch on the forehead and a larger white triangle on the nape. They have large bills, which are swollen on the top and truncated on the sides, with black feathers extending to near the nostrils. The bill is multicolored white, red, yellow and black, appearing mostly orange from a distance. The legs and feet are reddish-orange with dusky webs, and the iris is white. The female surf scoter is fairly uniformly colored dark to black-brown with occasional whitish feathers. There are two whitish patches on the cheeks below the eyes. The bill is greenish-black or bluish-black. The legs and feet are dull orange and the iris is pale or brown. Female plumages of all scoter species are similar. The surf scoter hen can be differentiated from the black scoter by the more sloping forehead and white face patches.

Surf Scoter Distribution

Food Habits

The surf scoter feeds mainly on mollusks; crustaceans; aquatic insects; small fish and on green plant matter such as pondweeds, wild celery, muskgrass and the seeds of sedges and bulrushes. Rarely diving in water that exceeds 30 feet deep, they forage in the zone of breaking waves, easily diving through wave crests.


The North American breeding population was estimated at 257,000-765,000 birds between 1955 and 1973. In 1994, 536,000 breeding birds were estimated for northwestern North America. Although accurate population information is currently not available for surf scoters, populations are believed to be declining.

Migrating and Wintering

Western surf scoters molt along the coast of British Columbia and Alaska, and in the Bering Sea. Eastern surf scoters molt along the Labrador coast, in the St. Lawrence estuary, and along the eastern coast of Hudson Bay. During migration, they use coastal estuaries, inshore ocean areas and occasionally freshwater habitats near the coast. They winter in shallow marine coastal waters along coastal North America and south to the northern Gulf of Mexico coast.

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