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An Imperial Beach Hidden Gem and Bird of the Week, Bryan Brillhart Photography present the “Dig IB” Bird of the Week, the Surf Scoter

Apr 25, 2018 06:47PM ● By Paul Spear

An Imperial Beach Hidden Gem and Bird of the Week, Bryan Brillhart Photography present the “Dig IB” Bird of the Week, the Surf Scoter

This weekly column provides photos of birds photographed locally in the Tijuana Estuary or on IB's beaches along with background on the bird.

This week’s “Bird of the Week” is the Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata). These large sea ducks went through a serious decline early in the 20th century, but now are mostly stable or only slightly declining. Wintering concentrations are vulnerable to oil spills and other pollution.

 Their habitats are in ocean surf, salt bays, and marinas; and in summer, on fresh Arctic lakes, and tundra. Breeding habitat is near lakes and slow-moving rivers in the far north, in sparsely forested or semi-open terrain, and sometimes out on open tundra. In winter their habitats are mostly on the ocean in shallow bays or estuaries. Some may winter on Great Lakes, and rarely on other bodies of fresh water. This duck is common in winter on both coasts. On the Pacific Coast, they are often seen around fishing piers and harbors. The male's colorful head pattern earns the species the hunters' nickname of "skunk-head coot."

 When feeding, they usually spring forward and dive with the wings partly opened. They are silent at most times of year. Their diet consists of mostly mollusks. In addition to mollusks, they also feed on crustaceans, aquatic insects, small fishes, echinoderms, marine worms, and  some plant material, mainly pondweeds and sedges. Young eat mostly aquatic insects at first, and also mollusks and some plant material, including sedges, pondweeds, and crowberries.

The surf scoter migrates in flocks. When migrating overland to coastal wintering areas, they usually fly high in the sky. Stopovers on lakes inland are mostly for resting, and not for feeding.

After mating, females lay 5-9 pale buff eggs, usually about 7. Incubation is by females only, 

 and the incubation period not known. Pairs are formed on winter ranges. Several males may surround one female in courtship. Displays of males include swimming back and forth rapidly with their necks stretched upward, exaggerated bowing, short display flights, and males may pursue females underwater. Nest sites are often some distance away from water, on ground, well hidden under low tree branches or in dense grass clumps. Nests, built by females are a shallow depression lined with down.

Young leave the nest and go to water shortly after hatching. Young are tended by the females, but feed themselves. Age of young at first flight is not well known.

The surf scoter is on of the oddest ducks you will ever see. From their white eyes with a black pin point in the center, to their multi-colored bills, seeing them is always a joy. I have seen several pairs of this unusual duck recently swimming along the river banks in our own Tijuana Estuary. Look for them as you walk the many trails there. Till next week, good birding!

If you would like to see more of Bryan's Bird Photos you can click on this link:

Bryan Brillhart Photography or visit all the "Birds of the Week" at: Bird of the Week 


Bryan Brillhart

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Paul Spear, Publisher, and Editor of Dig Imperial Beach 



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