Photo Credit: Glen Tepke
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Melanitta nigra americana
OTHER NAMES: American scoter, common scoter, coot, black coot, sea coot, black duck.
STATUS: Rare in winter, spring, and fall, and occasional in summer in Gulf Coast region. Occasional in fall and winter in Tennessee Valley and Mountain regions.
DESCRIPTION: The black scoter is a mid-sized sea duck. The male is black in color except for a yellow protuberance at the base of its bill and gray lower surface of the flight feathers. Females and immature birds are black-brown except for the whitish coloration of the cheeks, chin and throat. The female and immature black scoters have coloration which resembles that of the female ruddy duck, but the scoter is nearly double its size. Like the ruddy, the scoter tail is sometimes elevated at a 45-degree angle. The tail of the black scoter is also longer than other scoters. The feet of both sexes are dusky and the eyes are brown. The eyes are different among the sexes of the other scoters. Male black scoters average just under 20 inches in length and average 2.5 pounds, while females average just under 19 inches in length and 2.2 pounds.
DISTRIBUTION: There are two races of the black scoter; the European and the American. The American race breeds along the Bering Sea from the Aleutians to Kotzebue Sound. They have also been found nesting along James and Hudson Bays. They winter along the Pacific coast from the Aleutians to northern Mexico and along the Atlantic coast from the St. Lawrence River to northern Florida. Some 80 percent of wintering black scoters outside of the Aleutians are found along the Atlantic coast. Populations wintering along the Atlantic coast are typically found at more southern latitudes, while Pacific populations congregate further north.
HABITAT: Found primarily in offshore waters and less commonly on lakes.
FEEDING HABITS: Black scoters feed in coastal waters. Most of their diet is made up of animal life consisting mainly of clams, mussels and oysters. They also feed on crustaceans like goose barnacles and claw shrimp. Vegetation makes up only about 10 percent of their diet. Eelgrass appears to be utilized most frequently, but muskgrass, algae, pondweed and widgeon grass are also eaten.
LIFE HISTORY: Black scoters reach the breeding grounds in mid to late May. They breed at 2 years of age. While some pairs can be distinguished, small flocks typically break up into one or more courting parties consisting of 5 to 8 males per female. Male black scoters leave the females by late June to early July and form bachelor flocks at sea to molt. Along the cost line females nest in clumps of grass on the tundra, while further inland they nest along the edges of potholes where they prefer dense shrubby cover where their nests are well concealed. They lay 5 to 7 eggs that are a pale pinkish buff color. Incubation period is 27 to 28 days. After hatching, the broods will be capable for flight in 6 to 7 weeks.
Bellrose, Frank C. 1976. Ducks, Geese and Swans of North America. Stackpole Books, Harrisburg, PA 543 pp.
Collins, Henry Hill Jr. 1981. Complete Field Guide to North American Wildlife. Harper and Row, Publishers, Inc. New York, NY 714 pp.
AUTHOR: Mitchell Marks, Wildlife Biologist, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.