Saturday, December 29, 2007

Surf Scoter--Melanitta perspicillata

Male Surf Scoter at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve

"He looks like he's wearing clown make-up!" the little boy exclaimed as he watched the Surf Scoter paddle closer and closer to the footbridge at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve. Birding near children is always entertaining. And the little boy was right. It does look like clown make-up. The male Surf Scoter's bill is big and colorful. He has two large white spots on his head. One on his forehead and one on the back of his head. Rather flashy. He has white eyes which stand out against his black feathers.

Female Scoter at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve

The female Surf Scoter is more low-key. She is brown with a large bill and white spots on either side of the bill at the base. There is another smaller white spot behind the eye.

Male Surf Scoter--a flashy fellow.

The Surf Scoter is sturdy sea duck that feeds by diving to get is food. Surf Scoters eat mollusks. crustaceans, aquatic invertebrates, and aquatic plants. Mussels are a large part of their diet. As you may deduce from their name, Surf Scoters dive into the breaking surf or waves looking for food. They often dive or float together in large groups--safety in numbers. However, you can also find them alone, or with a few other Surf Scoters or other species of diving ducks. In addition to the ocean, you will also find them in estuaries and lakes (usually during breeding season).

Female Surf Scoter

These are large ducks, and it takes a running start for them to become airborne, i.e. to fly. The male Surf Scoter's wings have no white on them. They are sturdy, not graceful like the Northern Pintail. Surf Scoters are the only scoters to breed exclusively in the Americas. Female and Male Surf Scoters stay together until the serious brooding starts and then the males leave.

Male Surf Scoter

I have seen Surf Scoters at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, and would not be surprised to see them in the open ocean or at the Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve.

Male Surf Scoter from behind

Once you see the bill, it's a piece of cake, but what if you don't see it? Sometimes the back may be all you see as it is swimming away from you. Sometimes you may just see a black duck with a white patch sleeping in a raft of other ducks. The white patch is diagnostic.

Male and female Surf Scoters at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve

When you are out birding, look for the white patch in rafts of sleeping birds. You may be looking at a Surf Scoter. Have a great time birding in Orange County!


All About Birds: Surf Scoter

Detailed page about the Surf Scoter. Maps, photos, range, habits, and more.

BirdWeb: Surf Scoter

From Washington State Audubon a good page on Surf Scoters.

Natural History of Waterfowl: Surf Scoter

From the Virtual Birder a very good and detailed article on the Surf Scoter.

Sea Duck Joint Venture: Surf Scoter

Very good information about the Surf Scoter including articles, photos, conservation status, links, and more.

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