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A photo of a Velvet Scoter (Melanitta fusca), male
Velvet Scoter, Male

Velvet Scoter

Melanitta fusca

The Velvet Scoter (Melanitta fusca), also known as the Velvet Duck, is a robust sea duck with a distinctive large bill. Males are predominantly black with a white eye patch and speculum, while females are brown with pale patches on the head and white wing patches. This species is the largest of the scoters, measuring 51–58 cm in length.

Identification Tips

When identifying the Velvet Scoter, look for the male's striking yellow bill with a black base and the white around its eye. Females can be recognized by their two pale patches on each side of the head and white wing patches. Both sexes exhibit a bulky shape, which is characteristic of the species.

Habitat

The Velvet Scoter breeds in the far north of Europe and the Palearctic to the west of the Yenisey basin, favoring coastal areas near seas, lakes, or rivers. It nests in woodland or tundra environments.

Distribution

During the breeding season, these birds are found in the northern regions, with a small isolated population in eastern Turkey. In winter, they migrate to more temperate zones, including Europe as far south as Great Britain, and the Black and Caspian Seas, with some reaching France and northern Spain.

Behaviour

Velvet Scoters are known to form large, tightly packed flocks on suitable coastal waters, often taking off in unison. They are diving ducks, foraging underwater for their prey.

Song & Calls

The vocalizations of the Velvet Scoter are less commonly described but are important for communication within flocks, especially during the breeding season.

Breeding

The Velvet Scoter's nest is lined and situated on the ground close to water bodies. The typical clutch consists of 7–9 eggs. However, breeding success can be affected by competition for nesting sites, predation, and human disturbance.

Similar Species

Stejneger's Scoter and the White-winged Scoter are sometimes considered conspecific with the Velvet Scoter. The Black Scoter and Common Scoter, which belong to a different subgenus, can also be similar in appearance but have distinguishing features.

Diet and Feeding

This species dives to feed on crustaceans and molluscs, which form the bulk of its diet.

Conservation Status

The IUCN has listed the Velvet Scoter as Vulnerable due to declining populations. Conservation efforts are underway in regions like the Caucasus, where the species faces challenges to its breeding success.

Velvet Scoters of the Caucasus

Lake Tabatskuri in Georgia harbors the last breeding population of Velvet Scoters in the Caucasus. Conservation efforts led by Georgian ornithologist Nika Paposhvili are focused on improving the breeding success of this population, which has been documented in the film "Mr. Velvet Scoter."

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Velvet Scoter Fun Facts

Did you know?
The Velvet Scoter was named after it's velvet-like plumage.

Velvet Scoters on Birda

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