Tuesday, March 9, 2010

At the coast... Surf Scoter

Surf ScoterSurf Scoter, Newport, Oregon on 19 April 2008 by Greg Gillson.


This bizarre-looking duck is quite common on the coastal bays and nearshore waters of the Pacific NW, as well as in Puget Sound. Of the three scoter species in the Pacific NW, this is by far the most abundant locally.

Though it nests in boreal forests in Alaska and across northern Canada, some one-year old non-breeders can be found along the coastline of the Pacific NW even in summer. Fall through spring this is an abundant duck in nearshore surf and estuaries.

Surf Scoters are rather rare inland in the Pacific NW. In late fall they can sometimes be found on larger lakes and reservoirs throughout the region.

Interestingly, the male Surf Scoter can be mistaken for the usually less abundant Tufted Puffin. That is because they are both blackish with orange feet, and white, black, and orange on the bill. A closer view will reveal the puffins rounder wings, shorter neck, and differently-shaped bill.

Female Surf Scoters are dark brownish-black with white at the base of the bill and on the ear coverts. First-year males are about half way between adult males and females in appearance.

More than half the diet of Surf Scoters is mussels and clams that they pry from underwater rocks just beyond the breakers. In spring they gather in estuaries for the herring spawn to consume the eggs of this abundant fish.