White-winged Scoter

About the White-winged Scoter


The white-winged scoter nests on freshwater lakes and wetlands in the northwestern interior of North America. They favor large brackish or freshwater wetlands and lakes in their breeding range, with the highest concentrations on lakes that have islands covered with dense, low shrubs, or herbaceous vegetation. Female white-winged scoters typically nest beneath dense vegetation and lay an average of 9 eggs.

Latin: Melanitta fusca

Average length: M 21.6", F 20"

Average weight: M 3.5 lbs, F 2.6 lbs


The white-winged scoter is the largest of the three North American scoter species. The large white speculum on the black wing make this species the easiest to identify while in flight. Male white-winged scoters are entirely black with white eye patches. The bill is orange, becoming red at the tip with a large black knob at the base. The legs and feet are reddish-orange with dusky webs and the iris is pale gray. Female white-winged scoters are a dark brownish-black color with two whitish patches on the sides of their heads, in front of and behind the eye. The bill is blackish-gray with a less prominent black knob at the base. The legs and feet are dull orange and the iris is brown.

White Winged Scoter Distribution

Food Habits

White-winged scoters dive to feed on mollusks, crustaceans, aquatic insects, and small fish found in marine and freshwater habitats. The summer diet also includes pondweeds and bur reeds in inland areas.


Because of this species' low rate of recruitment and strong philopatry (tendency to return to the same nesting area), disturbance during the nesting season and hunting on breeding areas have the potential to severely impact local populations. During 1955-'73, estimates of the white-winged scoter population ranged from 555,000 to 675,000 birds. Currently, accurate population information is not available for white-winged scoters. However, midwinter inventories indicate a declining trend from 1954 to 1994.

Migrating and Wintering

The winter range of white-winged scoters includes the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, where they prefer coastal environments, especially bays and inlets. They migrate to the Atlantic and Pacific coasts from breeding areas in northwestern Canada and Alaska.

View more species in our Waterfowl ID gallery.

Waterfowl ID