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Black Scoter: Identification and Overview

May 10, 2023

The Black Scoter is a captivating sea duck known for its distinct appearance and unique vocalizations. Found across the northern coasts of North America and Eurasia, this bird is admired by birdwatchers and wildlife enthusiasts alike. In this comprehensive blog, we will dive deep into the fascinating world of the Black Scoter, exploring its size and shape, color pattern, behavior, habitat, interesting facts, ecosystem services, and the importance of its conservation.

Size and Shape

The Black Scoter is a medium-sized sea duck, with males measuring between 19 to 21 inches in length and females slightly smaller at around 17 to 19 inches. The average wingspan of the Black Scoter ranges from 28 to 31 inches. The body is relatively chunky, with a round head and a thick neck, giving it a stout appearance.

The most notable feature of the Black Scoter is its large, triangular-shaped bill. Males have a distinctive yellow-orange knob at the base of the bill, which is absent in females. The bill is well-adapted for the bird's diving and foraging habits, as it enables the Black Scoter to easily grasp and manipulate its prey.

Color Pattern

As the name suggests, the male Black Scoter is predominantly black in color, with an iridescent sheen that can appear green or purple in certain lighting conditions. The female, on the other hand, is a more subdued brownish color, with a darker crown and lighter cheeks, which helps provide camouflage while nesting.

Both males and females have dark eyes and black legs and feet. The male's striking yellow-orange bill knob adds a splash of color to its otherwise monochrome appearance. Juvenile Black Scoters resemble adult females in coloration, though they may have a more mottled appearance as they transition into their adult plumage.


Black Scoters are sociable birds, often forming large flocks during migration and winter. They are strong swimmers and divers, using their powerful legs and webbed feet to propel themselves underwater in search of food. The majority of their diet consists of mollusks, crustaceans, and small fish, which they catch by diving to depths of up to 40 feet.

During the breeding season, Black Scoters become more solitary and territorial, with males performing elaborate courtship displays to attract a mate. These displays include head-bobbing, wing-flapping, and a unique, high-pitched whistling call that has been described as sounding like a "finger running along the teeth of a comb." Once paired, the female lays her eggs in a well-concealed nest on the ground, typically close to a body of water.


Black Scoters breed in the freshwater wetlands and tundra of the Arctic and subarctic regions, with a preference for shallow lakes, ponds, and marshes. During the non-breeding season, they migrate to coastal areas, where they can be found along rocky and sandy shores, as well as in estuaries and bays. Their wintering grounds span from the Aleutian Islands in Alaska to the Atlantic coast of North America, as well as along the coasts of Europe and eastern Asia.


  1. The Black Scoter is known by several other names, including the Common Scoter in Europe and the Butterbill due to the male's distinctive bill knob.
  2. Black Scoters have been recorded diving to depths of up to 40 feet in search of food, although most dives are typically shallower, around 10 to 20 feet.
  3. Black Scoters are long-lived birds, with some individuals known to live for more than 15 years in the wild.
  4. These birds have a unique way of drinking water; they skim the surface with their bill while swimming, allowing water to flow into their mouths.
  5. The population of Black Scoters is thought to be in decline, with habitat loss and disturbance being among the primary threats to the species.

Ecosystem Services

Black Scoters play an essential role in the coastal ecosystem by controlling the population of their prey, including mollusks, crustaceans, and small fish. By doing so, they help maintain a balanced food chain and contribute to the overall health of their habitat. Additionally, as a prey species for larger predators such as raptors and gulls, Black Scoters support the survival of these species as well.

As migratory birds, Black Scoters also serve as bioindicators for the health of the various ecosystems they inhabit, from their Arctic breeding grounds to their coastal wintering sites. Their presence or absence can signal changes in the environment that may warrant further study or conservation efforts.


The Black Scoter is a fascinating and important species that plays a vital role in maintaining the balance of the ecosystems it inhabits. With its striking appearance, unique vocalizations, and captivating behavior, this bird is truly a wonder to behold. By understanding and appreciating the Black Scoter, we can better support conservation efforts to ensure the survival of this captivating sea duck and the myriad of other species that rely on the same habitats for their survival.