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A photo of a Common Scoter (Melanitta nigra), male
Common Scoter, Male

Common Scoter

Melanitta nigra

The common scoter, Melanitta nigra, is a robust sea duck with a distinctive silhouette. Males are cloaked in an inky blackness with a unique bulbous bill, tinged with yellow around the nostrils. Females, on the other hand, are garbed in brown with paler cheeks, a subtle contrast to their male counterparts.

Identification Tips

To identify the common scoter, look for the absence of white on the male (drake) and note the more pronounced pale areas on the female. This differentiates them from other scoter species, with the exception of the black scoter.

Habitat

These birds are found breeding in the northern reaches of Europe and across the Palearctic to the Olenyok River, favoring coastal areas, lakes, rivers, woodlands, and tundra environments.

Distribution

During the winter months, the common scoter migrates south to temperate coastal regions of Europe, reaching as far as Morocco. They are known to form large, tightly packed flocks in these areas.

Behaviour

The common scoter is a sociable bird, often seen in dense flocks that take flight and dive in unison. Their nesting sites are constructed on the ground near water bodies, where they lay 6-8 eggs in a well-lined nest.

Song & Calls

The common scoter's vocalizations are distinct and can be used to differentiate it from the black scoter, with each species having its own identifiable calls.

Breeding

Breeding takes place in secluded areas close to water. The female lays a clutch of 6-8 eggs, which she incubates in a nest lined with vegetation.

Diet and Feeding

Diving is the common scoter's method of foraging, primarily for crustaceans and molluscs. When inland on freshwater, their diet expands to include aquatic insects and small fish.

Conservation status

The IUCN Red List categorizes the common scoter as Least Concern. However, certain populations, such as those in the UK, have experienced significant declines, leading to conservation efforts to bolster their numbers.

Similar Species

The black scoter (M. americana) is often considered a close relative and sometimes a subspecies. It shares many physical characteristics but can be distinguished by its distinct vocalizations and some differences in plumage.

Diet and Feeding

The common scoter's diet consists of crustaceans, molluscs, aquatic insects, and small fish, which they obtain by diving in both saltwater and freshwater environments.

Conservation status

The common scoter is currently listed as Least Concern by the IUCN. However, certain regional populations, such as those in the UK, are under threat, leading to targeted conservation actions to address declines in breeding pairs.

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Common Scoter Fun Facts

Did you know?
Common Scoters can dive as deep as 30 meters to catch shellfish.

Common Scoters on Birda

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