Birds of Seabrook Island

COAST BIRDS
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WORLD BIRDS
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ANECDOTES

  Scoters
 
 

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  Order Anseriformes - Waterfowl
   Family Anatidae - Ducks, Geese, and Swans
      Subfamily Anatinae - True Ducks
         Tribe Mergini - Sea Ducks
  Waterfowl vary in size - from teal to swans. They all have webbed feet and dense, waterproof plumage. Most nest on the ground and the nest is lined with down plucked by the female from her breast. Except for two small groups not found in North America, all belong to one (or two) families.
Ducks, Geese, and Swans are waterfowl with their bill finely serrated or grooved on the edge. Their tongue is fleshy. Their front toes are webbed. Males have a functional penis. They are strong fliers and many migrate long distances. 
True Ducks are sexually dimorphic. The female incubates and cares for the young - the male usually deserts early. Ducks undergo a simultaneous molt of their flight feathers and are flightless until the flight feathers of the alternate plumage regrow. Thus, males wear their nuptial plumage on the winter grounds where pair formation occurs in most species. 
Sea Ducks are active swimmers and foot-propelled divers.
Scoters - Melanitta. There are three species of mostly black sea ducks that breed in the arctic and migrate/winter along both coasts of the US. They are often found in mixed flocks along our coast in winter. They are swift and patter on the surface to become airborne. Flocks fly low and form long, irregular lines. In winter, they feed mainly on mollusks (mussels and other bivalves). They forage by diving and swimming underwater using their webbed feet for propulsion. Their wings may be folded or partly open while they are diving.
     
     
 
Scoters
 

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Scoters are always well offshore and are often missed. They are named because they often "scoot" through breaking waves offshore.
   In winter, it is always worthwhile to scan the ocean beyond the surf for these small ducks usually seen in small groups bobbing among the swells. Because they are similar and often relatively far offshore, a telescope may be required for identification. Consult your bird book. Note that many of the Christmas Bird Counts merely list sightings as scoter sp. (below).
   Scoters are generally silent (and too far away to hear if they weren't). The most vocal is the Black Scoter.
   I have seen Black Scoters off Seabrook and the other species at Huntington Beach.
     
 
Surf Scoter.
    The male is black with white head patches (behind the nape and on the forehead). The bill is inflated (has a knob) and is multicolored - orangish on the upper edge, white on the side with a black spot. The iris is white. In the first winter, the inflated bill may retain some color and there are a few white feathers on the nape.
   The female is black with a white patch behind the bill (the bill is deep at its base but is not as inflated as in the male.
   Young have a dark cap with white behind the bill and in the ear area (and have some lighter belly feathers.
   Unless you are very fortunate, the best you can hope for is the bill shape and flash of white.
Surf Scoter
 
 
Surf Scoter. Male.
Bodaga Bay, CA. Photo by Ed Konrad
     
 
Black Scoter - the smallest scoter
   The male is all black with a yellow saddle/knob at the base of the upper mandible.
   The female has a dark cap with pale cheeks. The bill is thin (no saddle).
   Young have a dark cap with a lighter face.
   The best field mark is to catch the yellow knob of the male or round head with thin bill of the female.
 
 
 
 
     
 
White-winged Scoter - the largest scoter
   The male has a yellowish bill with a darker flap over the base. The bill is somewhat spatulate. The eye has a white "comma" extending behind.
   The female is dark with a large head and an lighter oval patch at the base of the bill (first year birds have white lores and cheeks).
   Young have white lores and ear patches.
   Other than shape, the best field mark is a white wing patch (the tips of the secondaries are white). This is often covered when swimming but stretching (or flying) birds are relatively easy to identify.
White-winged Scoter
     
White-winged Scoter. Male.
Kiawah Island. © Kiawah Island Wildlife
   
  NOTES (unidentified scoters - Christmas counts):
   CBC: Charleston 0, 8200, 1100, 800, 0, 0, 0, 0;
            Hilton Head 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 60, 0;
            McClelleanville 0, 0, 0, 0, nc, 250, 319, 930; Winyah Bay x, x, 199, 14, 90, 20, 226, 28; Litchfield/Pawley's 171, 3210, 64, 0, 0, 0, 1020, 122.
       
    Banner - North Beach with pelicans - no scoters, but this is the place to find them.
       
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KEY:    ■ Seabrook list     □ Kiawah list