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BC Conservation Data Centre: Conservation Status Report

Melanitta perspicillata
Surf Scoter

Scientific Name: Melanitta perspicillata
English Name: Surf Scoter
Provincial Status Summary
Status: S3B,S4N
Date Status Assigned: March 14, 2000
Date Last Reviewed: March 05, 2015
Reasons: Placed on the Blue List because there are few known nesting sites in B.C. In the winter and spring very large concentrations of birds can occur on the coast that are susceptible to catastrophic events such as oil spills.
Range Extent: CE = 250-20,000 square km
Range Extent Comments: Known nesting areas are restricted to a few lakes in the Peace River and Ft. Nelson lowlands (Campbell et al. 1990). Wintering occurs along the coast.
Occurrences & Population
Number of Occurrences: BC = 6 - 80
Comments: Only a few breeding sites are known, but it is likely there are more that have been overlooked.
Number of Occurrences with Good Viability / Ecological Integrity: Rank Factor not assessed
Number of Occurrences Appropriately Protected & Managed: A = None
Comments: None of the breeding sites are known to be protected.
Population Size: U = Unknown
Comments: Breeding abundance has not yet been determined but is likely very small. Migrant and winter populations however, may contain 30 - 50% of the world populations (Campbell et al. 1990); the March population along the British Columbia coast has been estimated at 650,000 (Vermeer 1981). Concentrations of 300,000 having been observed (Martin 1978 in Campbell et al. 1990).
Threats (to population, occurrences, or area affected)
Degree of Threat: Rank Factor not assessed
Comments: Winter and migrant populations are vulnerable to oil spills, particularly when they concentrate into massive rafts in protected bays on the outer coast during spring migration. Metals or other contaminants may be a threat. There were large die-offs in 1990, 1991 and 1992 of scoters documented in southeastern Alaska during molt. The common factor found was elevated renel levels of cadmium (Henny et al. 1995). Breeding sites are somewhat susceptible to disturbance and habitat loss due to timber harvesting.
Trend (in population, range, area occupied, and/or condition of occurrences)
Short-Term Trend: U = Unknown
Comments: Trend data is not available for the breeding population in British Columbia. The trend between 1984 - 1994 shows a decline (Goudie et al. 1994) in the west. There have been long term declines in the McKenzie Delta region; Northwest Territories (Martell et al. 1984), Alaska (Henry et al. 1995), e. North America (U.S. Fish Wildl. Serv. 1993) and southern Manitoba (Bellrose 1980).
Long-Term Trend: Rank Factor not assessed
Other Factors
Intrinsic Vulnerability: Rank Factor not assessed
Environmental Specificity: Rank Factor not assessed
Other Rank Considerations:
Information Gaps
Research Needs:
Inventory Needs: Identification of the habitat attributes at known breeding sites is required to build a species-habitat model capable of predicting suitable habitats. Suitable habitats should be mapped to assist population inventory efforts. Surveys using standardized methods (Resour. Inventory Comm. 1998? #18) in and size of the breeding population. Traditional areas of coastal concentration should be mapped and monitored periodically to determine long-term trends in wintering and migrant populations as well as baseline population estimates.
Protection: The species should be included in the species list of the proposed Identified Wildlife Management Strategy under the Forest Practices Code of British Columbia Act. Procedures for the establishment of Wildlife Habitat Areas on critical nesting habitats, and General Wildlife Measures to determine appropriate forest practices within established areas may be required.
Management: Forestry not mentioned in BNA account, but did mention Mydroelectric flooding and aquaculture. Also mentioned concern with harvest. Harvest of susc are currently being reviewed by, CWS/USPNS as they are for all sea-ducks to see if regulatory response needed. Could mention this. (NB-v.little harvest in BC). Marine oil spill response plans should be evaluated and amended as necessary to address the needs of Surf Scoter populations. Traditional areas of coastal concentration should be given legal protection under the federal Migratory Bird Protection Act. Encourage reporting of nests, and broods to establish better knowledge of the species breeding distribution and chronology. Little is known about the relationships between the wintering, breeding, molting and staging areas, the behavior and ecology of this species during molting and the possible philopatry to wintering and molting areas. The effects of heavy metals on health and reproduction should be monitored (Savard et al. 1998).
Author: S. Cannings and L. Ramsay
Date: December 01, 1998
Bellrose, F. C. 1980. Ducks, geese and swans of North America. 3rd edition. Stackpole Books, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. 540 pp.
Campbell, R.W., N.K. Dawe, I.McT. Cowan, J.M. Cooper, G. Kaiser, and M.C.E. McNall. 1990. The Birds of British Columbia, Vol. 1. Nonpasserines: Introduction, Loons through Waterfowl. Royal B.C. Mus. in association with Environ. Can., Can. Wildl. Serv. 514pp.
Cannings, R.J. 1998. The Birds of British Columbia - a taxonomic catalogue. B.C. Minist. Environ., Lands and Parks, Wildl. Branch, Victoria, Wildl. Bull. B-86. 266pp.
Goudie, R.I., S. Brault, B. Conant, A.V. Kondratyev, M.R. Petersen, and K. Vermeer. 1994. The status of sea ducks in the North Pacific Rim: toward their conservation and management. Pp. 27-49 in Trans. 59th North Am. Wildl. and Nat. Res. Conf., Wildl. Manage. Inst., Washington, DC.
Henny, C.J., D.D. Rudis, T.J. Roffe, and E. Robinson-Wilson. 1995. Contaminants and sea ducks in Alaska and the circumpolar region. Environ. Health Perspect. 103:41-49.
Martell, A.M., D.M. Dickinson, and L.M. Casselman. 1984. Wildlife for the Mackenzie delta region. Boreal Inst. for North. Stud., Univ. of Albera, Edmonton, Occas. Publ. No. 15.
Martin, P.W. 1978. A winter inventory of the shoreline and marine oriented birds and mammals of the Chatham Sound. Unpubl. rep. prepared for B.C. Minist. Environ., Victoria, BC. 47pp.
Resource Inventory Committee. 1997f. DRAFT. Standardized Inventory Methodologies for Components of British Columbia's Biodiversity: Sea Birds, version 1.1 (draft). Prepared for Resour. Inventory Comm., B.C. Minist. Environ., Lands and Parks, Victoria, BC.
Savard, J.-P.L., D. Bordage, and A. Reed. 1998. Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata). in A. Poole, and F. Gill, eds. The Birds of North America, No. 363. The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.
United States Fish and Wildlife Service. 1993. Status of seaducks in Eastern North America. US Fish and Wildl. Serv., Office of Migratory Bird Management, Laurel, MD.
Vermeer, K. 1981. Food and populations of Surf Scoters in British Columbia. Wildfowl 32:107-116.

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Suggested Citation:

B.C. Conservation Data Centre. 1998. Conservation Status Report: Melanitta perspicillata. B.C. Minist. of Environment. Available: (accessed Feb 2, 2023).