Black Scoter: Some Interesting Facts

Black Scoter: Some Interesting Facts

Black Scoter Duck

The Black Scoter, also known as the American Scoter, is a large sea duck that belongs to the Melanitta genus. Its scientific name, Melanitta americana, reflects its dark color and American roots.

As an adult male, this duck boasts an all-black body, a large yellow bill, and a striking pumpkin-orange knob at the base of its bill. In contrast, the female Black Scoter is brown with light cheeks and a dark cap to highlight her pale cheek.

Notably, the Black Scoters are most often spotted in coastal areas. Here, they are known to dive deep into the sea to feed. Their diet consists of a variety of aquatic invertebrates such as mollusks and crustaceans.

In terms of nesting habits, Black Scoters lay their eggs on the ground. They choose locations close to the sea, lakes, or rivers, and favor woodland or tundra environments. A typical nest will house 5 to 7 eggs.

Unfortunately, the population of Black Scoters is on the decline. They face threats such as oil spills and other forms of pollution, making their survival a concern.

What Are the Physical Characteristics of The Black Scoter?

The Black Scoter is a medium-sized, stocky sea duck. It’s bigger than a Long-tailed Duck but smaller than a White-winged Scoter.


A male Black Scoter measures between 16.9 to 19.3 inches in length, weighing from 30.4 to 38.8 ounces. The female, on the other hand, is about 18 inches long and weighs approximately 2.16 pounds.


The adult male Black Scoter is all black with a bright orange knob at the base of its yellow bill. The females and immature ducks are rich brown. They have a blackish cap and a contrasting pale cheek, adding to their distinctive appearance.

Body Shape and Bill

The Black Scoter has a rounded head and a short tail. Its body is stocky, built for diving and swimming. The bill is broad, not sloping upward toward the forehead like the Surf Scoter. The base of the bill on male Black Scoters is rounded.


The Black Scoter is one of the most vocal waterfowl species. Flocks can often be located by the males’ incessant crooning. It’s a wistful, descending whistle evoking the lonesome seacoasts they occupy during winter.

Where Is the Black Scoter Found?

The preferred habitats of the Black Scoter are the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines during winter. They form large flocks with numbers in tens of thousands. In these wintering areas, you’ll find them as far south as the Carolinas and northern California.

They also frequent inland lakes and reservoirs. You might spot them here when bad weather drives them from the sky. However, these ducks are primarily saltwater species. So, the coastal regions are their common hangouts.

When it’s time for breeding, Black Scoters head to the northern forest edge or the treeless tundra. These breeding ranges are ideal for them due to the presence of small shallow lakes, ponds, sloughs, and river banks. The tall grasses in these areas offer perfect concealment for their nests. In summer, the coastal tundra habitats become their home.

Another interesting fact is their migration pattern. They migrate north from March through May and south from late September through November. This migration is marked by a molt migration phase. In this phase, the ducks flock in large groups at northern coastal sites to molt before heading south in new plumage.

What Is the Diet of The Black Scoter?

Seasons and habitats play a vital role in the dietary habits of the Black Scoter duck. When the sun shines bright in summer, these ducks feast on a variety of vegetation including iris, pondweed, duckweed, and milfoil.

Along with the greens, they also find insects and their larvae delectable. You’ll often spot them munching on caddisfly, mayfly, and beetles. They don’t shy away from small mollusks, crustaceans like amphipods, and fish eggs either.

As the season changes to winter, their diet takes a shift toward shellfish. Mussels and clams become their primary food source. They also eat crustaceans and smaller amounts of marine vegetation such as eelgrass.

As the Black Scoter is a diving duck, their diet naturally includes a fair amount of mollusks, crabs, and some fish, with minimal intake of vegetation.

What Are the Mating and Breeding Behaviors of A Black Scoter?

The Black Scoter’s mating and breeding habits isn’t easy to understand due to the scarcity of intensive research. However, a few intriguing traits have been revealed.

Breeding Habitat: Black Scoters give preference to the far north’s boreal forest for nesting. You’ll spot them near shallow lakes with rocky bottoms and emergent vegetation along the edges. They also inhabit wet tundra, treeless higher slopes, and the openings around lakes in the north forest.

When it comes to their Mating process, Black Scoter pairs show social monogamy on breeding grounds. Males act as protective partners, warding off any potential rivals. Many a time, a group of males can be seen courting a single female, showcasing various displays to win her over.

Courtship among Black Scoters usually happens in winter, often in groups. The males strive to impress females with their displays. Females, on the other hand, aren’t shy about showing their preferences and often engage in displaying moves with their chosen partner.

The Nesting and Incubation period for Black Scoters is quite fascinating. The nest is typically near water, hidden by grasses or low scrub. The female incubates the eggs, usually 7-8 in number, for roughly 27-33 days.

Post hatching, the female Black Scoter duck provides Brooding and Fledging for about 1-3 weeks. The young ones leave the nest shortly after hatching and start their journey toward the water. They feed themselves, but the female tends to care for them, especially during the night.

When it’s time for Migration and Wintering, Black Scoters move north from March through May and head south from late September through November. They spend their non-breeding period in large flocks on the ocean, often found on coastal bays and along coastlines. Some of them halt their journey on the Great Lakes and other fresh waters, spending their winter there.

What Is the Conservation Status of The Black Scoter?

The Black Scoter is currently listed as “Near Threatened” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It’s believed that the population of Black Scoters is declining. This drop in numbers has raised multiple conservation concerns.

Black Scoters at sea are particularly vulnerable to oil spills and other forms of pollution. Being medium-sized sea ducks, they often form flocks that could be severely affected by such disasters. This threat is a major concern for their continued survival.

Hunting is another issue faced by this species. As with most waterfowl, Black Scoters are hunted. However, their hunting seasons are closely managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to prevent over-hunting.

The potential impact of climate change on the Black Scoter population isn’t explicitly mentioned in the data but it’s a looming threat to many bird species. As the world’s climate changes, the habitats and food sources these birds rely on may alter, leading to further declines.

Contaminants in the environment are a general conservation issue for many bird species and Black Scoters are no exception. While specific contaminants affecting Black Scoters aren’t mentioned in the search results, it’s an area of concern.

Finally, oil and gas drilling in nesting areas is another potential threat to the Black Scoter population. The search results indicate that such activities could disrupt their breeding grounds, further threatening their survival.

Despite these threats, the Black Scoter duck remains a resilient species. Its ability to adapt its diet and habitat according to the season shows its potential to overcome adversity. However, it’s critical to keep monitoring and protecting this species to prevent further decline.

What Are Some Interesting Facts About the Black Scoter?

The male Black Scoters boast a velvety black color and a vibrant pumpkin-orange knob at the base of their bill. This makes them stand out and easy to spot. The females, on the flip side, have a mostly brown body with a blackish cap that contrasts with a pale cheek.

If you’re near the coast during winter and hear a wistful, descending whistle, that’s probably a male Black Scoter. They’re known as one of the most vocal waterfowl species, their crooning carrying over the lonesome seacoasts they inhabit during the cold months.

The Black Scoter’s habitat is widespread. You’ll find them along the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines. They form large winter flocks and are scarce south of the Carolinas and northern California. Come late autumn, you might see tens of thousands of them migrating southward past prominent headlands or peninsulas. Inland, they may pop up briefly on lakes or reservoirs, especially when hard weather forces them from the sky.

Foraging for food, Black Scoters dive and swim underwater, pushed by their feet. Their diet? Mollusks, insects, fish eggs, small fish, and some plant matter. They usually feed in areas of open water, steering clear of dense underwater or emergent vegetation.

When it comes to breeding, these ducks nest later than most other ducks in North America. The pairs form in late winter or spring, and the lined nest is built on the ground close to the sea, lakes, or rivers, in woodland or tundra. The female incubates the 5-7 eggs for about 27-33 days. After hatching, the young leave the nest quickly and head to water, where the female tends to them while they feed themselves. The age at first flight is about 6-7 weeks.

Despite their resilience and adaptability, the Black Scoters are Near Threatened, with their population declining. They are vulnerable to oil spills and other pollution, especially when in flocks at sea.

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