White-winged Scoter (Melanitta fusca)

Scoters, like many other diving birds, have small wings for their body weight. When taking flight, scoters must run across the water to build up enough speed and lift to allow for take off. They often fly so low that they barely skim the tops of the waves!


At up to 50 cm in length, the male is larger and different in colouration than the female. It has a black body with a white crescent under each eye, a white wing patch, and a red bill with a large, black knob at the base. The female has a paler black body with faint patches on her cheek and at the base of her reddish-black, knobless bill. She also has the white wing patches that give this species its common name.


The white-winged scoter breeds throughout the Canadian prairies, and in parts of northern and western coastal Canada and Alaska. Winter migrants are found on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of North America, and commonly wander into the eastern Great Lakes via the St. Lawrence River.


Nests are constructed on the ground under low bushes for concealment, sometimes hundreds of yards from fresh or salt water. They are built with grass and twigs and are usually lined with down. In early June, five to eight pale salmon or buff color eggs are laid. If several nests occur on a lake, one female dominates and chases the others away. She then gathers all the young, and cares for the immense brood - which can contain as many as sixty ducklings! Males leave soon after incubation has begun to return to the coast.

The white-winged scoter eats marine and freshwater invertebrates, such as mollusks, crustaceans, and insects. Also, about 10% of its diet is made up of aquatic vegetation. The white-winged scoter feeds by diving from the surface - sometimes descending as much as 12 m.