Surf Scoter

Melanitta perspicillata
Range Map

The Surf Scoter winters along the east and west coast of the USA, but breeds in Alaska, Yukon and Northwest Territory and east to the Atlantic coast. Though known as “sea ducks”, these birds breed in freshwater lakes of the boreal forests far to the north on the North American Continent.

In November 2001, while viewing the sea from the cliffs to the north of the Olympic Peninsula, I witnessed a large, dense raft of perhaps a hundred Surf Scoters actively feeding near the mouth of the Puget Sound. The birds all dived repeatedly, all at once, simultaneously resurfacing a minute later. The sea water virtually boiled with each cycle. It was very exciting to watch.

San Diego Bay, especially at the southern end, is a reliable place to meet these birds in the winter. During the breeding season, these sea ducks seek boreal forest lakes in northern Canada and Alaska.

Surf Scoters nest later than most other duck species. Females alone incubate, and after hatching, the female leads her young to water where they feed on aquatic invertebrates. Females with broods are not territorial, and on crowded lakes accidental exchanges of chicks, and brood amalgamations occur. Unsuccessful hens leave the breeding grounds before the successful hens, which depart before the hatch-year birds do.

Modern science regards the Surf Scoter as monotypic (i.e. there are no subspecies).

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