Every time I stand amid the breakers along the Pacific Coast, I am reminded of the awesome power of the waves as they crash onto the shore. It is difficult to even stand up in water that is barely up to my calves. Thus it is with wonder that I watch surf scoters (Melanitta perspicillata) comfortably swim and dive among and just beyond the breakers.
When diving, these sea ducks flick their wings open just as they submerge then swim mostly using their feet with the wings partially opened.
Surf scoter males are black with white patches on their nape, forecrown and the base of the bill. The eye is pale and the bill is orange with a yellow tip and is partially feathered on the top. Females are uniformly blackish brown with diffuse pale loral and postocular spots. Some females have pale napes. First winter birds look like females except their bellies are pale.
Wintering along both coasts of North America, surf scoters nest in Northern Canada and Alaska. The nests are constructed near small freshwater lakes or slow-moving rivers in sparsely-forested or semi-open terrain, occasionally on the open tundra. Built on the ground a little distance from the water, nests are well hidden in dense grass clumps or under low tree branches. The chicks are independent from birth with the mother only guarding or protecting them. Since the chicks are not dependent on their mother for food they often move between broods.
The surf scoter diet is mainly mollusks. They also eat some crustaceans, aquatic insects, small fish, echinoderms, marine worms and occasionally, plant material.
I watched and photographed these surf scoters at McClure’s Beach in Point Reyes National Seashore near San Francisco CA.