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What Is the White-Winged Scoter?

A.M. Boyle
A.M. Boyle

The white-winged scoter is a large coastal duck. Despite its name, the duck is mostly black or brown but is distinguished by a patch of white on its wings. This type of duck is one of five species of scoters. They are referred to as sea ducks because of their preference for staying near the ocean during the winter months.

Of all this particular species, the white-winged scoter is the largest, weighing anywhere from 2 to 5 pounds (about 950 to 2,129 grams) and growing up to 24 inches (about 60 cm) long. The males and females are distinguished by their different appearances. A male white-winged scoter is generally larger than a female and is all black with a white crescent under each eye. The female duck is generally a dark, muddy brown with two white patches next to her eyes. In flight, a white patch is visible on the interior of the wing feathers, thus giving the ducks their name.

Veterinarian with a puppy
Veterinarian with a puppy

Both the male and female white-winged scoters have large beaks that are characterized by a prominent black knob at the base. Their beaks, however, are colored differently. The male’s beak has yellow or reddish sides and an orange tip, while the female’s beak is mostly dark gray with a red hue. Another unique feature between the male and female white-winged scoters is the eyes. The female’s eyes are dark brown, whereas the male’s eyes are a pale white.

Normally, the white-winged scoter nests and breeds near the freshwater lakes and wetlands of Alaska and West-Central Canada. A female generally lays anywhere from five to ten eggs at a time, and the pink-colored eggs usually hatch after about 30 days. The mother duck tends to her young only for about three weeks, after which they are on their own. Ducklings generally learn to fly by the time they are 80 days old.

These scoters tend to spend the winter months near the coastal areas of both the U.S. and Canada and can be found along both the Pacific and Atlantic shore as far south as California and North Carolina. Their diet normally consists of crustaceans and mollusks, including crabs, clams, and mussels. The ducks also eat insects, small fish, and some types of vegetation. Most of their food is gotten by diving into the water and capturing their prey within their large beaks.

Like many ducks, the white-winged scoter travels and nests in large flocks. When in flight, the birds normally use either a straight line or V formation. Their call sounds more like a whistle than the average quack of a duck, and because of their sound, size, and distinctive appearance, many people mistake them for other types of birds when in flight.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a White-Winged Scoter?

The White-Winged Scoter is a large sea duck native to North America. It's known for its distinctive white wing patches and bold facial markings. These birds are predominantly black with a unique bill shape, and they spend much of their time in coastal waters, diving for mollusks and crustaceans.

Where can you find White-Winged Scoters?

White-Winged Scoters breed in Alaska and Canada, near freshwater lakes and marshes. In winter, they migrate to coastal marine environments along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of North America. During migration, they can sometimes be spotted on larger inland lakes.

What do White-Winged Scoters eat?

White-Winged Scoters have a diet that primarily consists of mollusks, crustaceans, and small fish. They are adept divers, often going several meters underwater to forage for food. Their strong bills are specially adapted to handle a variety of marine prey.

How do White-Winged Scoters reproduce?

White-Winged Scoters nest on the ground near water, laying 5-9 eggs. The female incubates the eggs for about a month, while the male typically leaves before the eggs hatch. After hatching, the young are precocial and able to leave the nest within a couple of days, though they remain dependent on the mother for protection and guidance.

Are White-Winged Scoters endangered?

As of my knowledge cutoff in 2023, White-Winged Scoters are not considered endangered. However, they are subject to various threats, including habitat loss and oil spills. Conservation efforts focus on monitoring populations and protecting crucial habitats to ensure their numbers remain stable.

How can one identify a White-Winged Scoter?

To identify a White-Winged Scoter, look for a large, black sea duck with white wing patches visible in flight. Males have a unique bulbous bill with a conspicuous white patch below the eye, while females are more uniformly dark with a subtler face pattern. Their silhouette is heavy-bodied with a sloping forehead and a long tail.

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    • Veterinarian with a puppy
      Veterinarian with a puppy