Surf Scoter

Surf Scoter Picture

Surf Scoter

A Surf Scoter is a fun bird to see while bird watching. Below are some tips to help you identify Surf Scoters. We have also put together a list of fun Surf Scoter t-shirts, Surf Scoter bird patches, birdhouses, bird feeders, binoculars, stickers, and other fun bird watching items.

About Surf Scoters

In winter, these ducks are common on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, around fishing piers and harbors. Their boldly patterned heads give them the name “skunk-headed coot.” They are not deep water divers and prefer water that does not exceed 30 ft. Some of their distinctive features include:

Description and Identification

Surf Scoters are one of the smallest scoter species that grow up to 19 inches long.  
Males are velvety black with white patches on the forehead and nape. The females are slightly
paler. Both sexes have paler patches on the cheeks below the eyes. Females have a white patch
on the nape which is unique to scoters. These scooters have heavy, swollen bills, that look orange
from afar, but are patterns of white, red, and yellow. They also have a black spot at the bottom of
their bills. Females have bulkier bills and a flat profile. Some of them have black bills with blue
colorations.  These birds are most vulnerable when they are molting as they become flightless as lose
their flight feathers simultaneously.

Surf Scoter Color Pattern

The Surf Scoters are entirely black with white patches on the forehead and the nape. Their bill is white, orange and black. Their eyes are white while the legs and feet are orange. Females appear to be entirely dark brown with poorly defined white patches on the forehead. Juveniles resemble the females but have white underparts and well-defined white patches on the forehead.

Surf Scoter Size

Surf Scoters are large diving ducks with a swollen large bill.

The relative size of both sexes

  • Length range: 18.9-23.6 cm (48-60 cm)
  • Weight: 33.6-62.4 oz (953-1769 g)
  • Wingspan range: 30.3 in (77 cm)

Surf Scoter Behavior

Surf Scoters forage by diving for prey near or on the bottom. They are mainly propelled by their feet and usually have their wings half-opened. Pairs are formed in winter and during courtship, several males can surround one female and perform an array of displays.

Surf Scoter Food

Surf Scoters eat mollusks and crustaceans. Aquatic insects, small fish, echinoderms, plant material
like crowberries and pondweed are also included in their diet but are more popular among the

They mainly feed on mollusks. They can also eat aquatic insects, crustaceans, marine worms, small fish, and echinoderms. Naturally, they feed on plant material such as pondweeds, sedges, and crowberries.  The young ones mostly feed on aquatic insects.

Surf Scoter Habitat

Surf Scoters prefer ocean surfs, salt bays, and marines in the summer. They migrate to estuaries in
the winter. They breed in semi-open areas where water flows slowly and they prefer places with
strong winds to protect their young. Surf Scoters rarely spawn or settle near freshwater like boreal
forests and small water bodies.  They breed easily in sandy terrain. Some fledglings even chose to
stay in the more temperate regions, instead of migrating for the winter.

For the better part of the year, they are common in marinas and oceans. In the summer, they frequent tundra and freshwater Arctic lakes. They breed in areas near slow-moving water and lakes in the far north. They mainly winter in Great Lakes.

Range and Migration

Surf Scoters are a breed of ducks endemic to North America. They are widespread throughout the
Pacific and Atlantic coasts. They are known to breed in Northern Canada and Alaska. These birds
are exclusive to this range compared to other sea ducks. They are migratory and take different
routes every season. The migration range is over five thousand kilometers from the Aleutian
Islands to the Baja Peninsula in Mexico. Some may even move to West Europe and the British

Surf Scoter Lifecycle

The females lay 5-9 eggs and incubate them for an unknown time. After hatching, the young ones are led to the water where they feed themselves but tended to by the female.

Surf Scoter Nesting

Surf Scoters make pairs while they migrate to the winter range. These pairs last for a few years.
Females are courted by many males. They court the females using gurgling and loud “puk puk”
sounds. Females have a crow-like cry. The females lay five to nine eggs in shallow depressions
that they dig. They incubate for almost a month. After incubation, the chicks are cared for by the
mothers but are independent while feeding. Mothers are not very protective. These fledglings start
approaching the water soon after hatching. They often congregate into broods before preparing for
migration. Many times they get mixed up with the wrong families but are already independent of
the parents for survival.


Bird Watching Academy & Camp Subscription Boxes

At Bird Watching Academy & Camp we help kids, youth, and adults get excited and involved in bird watching. We have several monthly subscription boxes that you can subscribe to. Our monthly subscription boxes help kids, youth, and adults learn about birds, bird watching, and bird conservation.

Bird Watching Binoculars for Identifying Surf Scoters

The most common types of bird-watching binoculars for viewing Surf Scoters are 8×21 binoculars and 10×42 binoculars. Bird Watching Academy & Camp sells really nice 8×21 binoculars and 10×42 binoculars. You can view and purchase them here.

Surf Scoter T-shirts

If you love the Surf Scoter you should purchase a Bird Watching Academy & Camp T-shirt. To help support bird conservation we donate 10 percent to bird conservation activities.

Surf Scoter Iron On Patches

Kids, Youth, and Adults love to collect our Bird Watching Academy & Camp iron-on patches. Our bird-watching patches help you keep track of the birds you have seen and identified. You can also display the patches on our Bird Watching Academy & Camp banners.

The Surf Scoter is a great iron-on patch to start your collection with. The patches are durable and can be sewn on or ironed on to just about anything.

Surf Scoter Stickers

Stickers are a great way for you to display your love for bird watching and the Surf Scoter. We sell a monthly subscription sticker pack. The sticker packs have 12 bird stickers. These sticker packs will help your kids learn new birds every month.

Bird Feeders for Surf Scoters

There are many types of bird feeders. Here are our favorite bird feeders for your backyard. We use all of these bird feeders currently. Kids will have a great time watching birds eat at these bird feeders. Using this collection of bird feeders will provide a wide variety and many types of birds.

Best Bird Houses for Surf Scoters

There are many types of birdhouses. Building a birdhouse is always fun but can be frustrating. These 4 birdhouses have become our favorites. Getting a birdhouse for kids to watch birds grow is always fun. We spent a little extra money on these birdhouses but they have been worth the higher price and look great.

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