CDC Logo

BC Conservation Data Centre: Species Summary

Melanitta americana
Black Scoter

Scientific Name: Melanitta americana (Linnaeus, 1758)
Scientific Name Synonyms: Melanitta nigra
English Name: Black Scoter
Classification / Taxonomy
Scientific Name - Concept Reference: American Ornithologists' Union (AOU). Chesser, R.T., R.C. Banks, F.K. Barker, C. Cicero, J.L. Dunn, A.W. Kratter, I.J. Lovette, P.C. Rasmussen, J.V. Remsen, Jr., J.D. Rising, D.F. Stotz, and K. Winker. 2010. Fifty-first supplement to the American Ornithologists' Union Check-list of North American Birds. The Auk 127(3):726-744.
Classification Level: Species
Taxonomy Comments: March 2012 - changed from Melanitta nigra to Melanitta americana to align with NatureServe (DDW).
Species Group: Vertebrate Animal
Species Code: B-BLSC
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Craniata Aves Anseriformes Anatidae
Conservation Status / Legal Designation
Global Status: G5 (Apr 2016)
Provincial Status: S3S4N (Mar 2015)
BC List: Blue
Provincial FRPA list:   
Provincial Wildlife Act:
SARA Schedule:
General Status Canada: 4 - Secure (2005)
Migratory Bird Convention Act: Y
Ecology & Life History
General Description:
Global Reproduction Comments: In northern Quebec, egg laying began in the first week of June; hatching occurred in the second and third weeks of July (Savard and Lamothe, 1991, Can. Field-Nat. 105:488-496). Clutch size is 5-8 (often 8). Incubation lasts 27-28 days (Terres 1980). Young are tended by female, independent in 6-7 weeks (Harrison 1978).
Migration Characteristics:
(Global / Provincial)
    Local Migrant:
    Distant Migrant:
    Within Borders Migrant:
N /
N /
Y /
na /
Global Migration Comments: Migrates northward March-May, southward September-October. Atlantic Flyway wintering population is thought to come from Labrador and the west coast of Hudson Bay (Kehoe 1994).
(Type / Subtype / Dependence)
Lakes / Lake / Facultative - occasional use
Ocean / Intertidal Marine / Facultative - frequent use
Ocean / Sheltered Waters - Marine / Facultative - frequent use
Ocean / Subtidal Marine / Facultative - frequent use
Other Unique Habitats / Estuary / Facultative - frequent use
Stream/River / Stream/River / Facultative - occasional use
Global Habitat Comments: Mostly coastal waters, less commonly on large inland lakes and rivers when not breeding. Nests near lakes and pools on grassy or bushy tundra and in northern taiga (AOU 1983). Usually nests close to water. The nest is a depression lined with plant material, down and feathers.
Food Habits: Invertivore: Adult, Immature
Global Food Habits Comments: Except in inland habitats, mollusks comprise a majority of the diet; the blue mussel (MYTILUS EDULIS) often is a major food (Bellrose 1976). Also eats crustaceans, some fishes and plant foods, the latter being most important in inland habitats. Usually feeds in protected areas where water is no more than 25 ft deep.
Global Phenology: Diurnal: Adult, Immature
Provincial Phenology:
(1st half of month/
2nd half of month)
Colonial Breeder: N
Length(cm)/width(cm)/Weight(g): 48/ / 1100
Elevation (m) (min / max): Global: 
Endemic: N
Global Range Comment: BREEDING: North America in western and southern Alaska, Aleutians, scattered areas in central and eastern Canada, including southern Keewatin, northern Quebec, and Newfoundland. Also found (and may breed) from southern Yukon and Mackenzie east to Labrador and Newfoundland. Eurasia from Iceland, British Isles, Spitsbergen, and Scandinavia east across Russia and Siberia to Anadyrland, Sakhalin, and Kamchatka. NON-BREEDING: North America on Pacific coast from Pribilofs and Aleutians to southern California, Great Lakes, Atlantic coast from Newfoundland to South Carolina, Florida. Eurasia from breeding grounds south to Mediterranean Sea, Korea, eastern China, and Japan. Accidental in Hawaii (Midway) and in North America to Gulf Coast (AOU 1983). In the U.S. and southern Canada, areas of winter abundance include coastal areas of southern New Jersey, South Carolina, British Columbia, and Washington (Root 1988). In the early 1990s, USFWS Winter Sea Duck Survey in eastern North America found the highest densities of scoters (all species) in Virginia, New York, Maine, and Massachusetts (descending order of abundance, Kehoe 1994).
Authors / Contributors
Global Information Author: Hammerson, G.
Last Updated: Sep 06, 1994
Provincial Information Author:
Last Updated:
References and Related Literature
American Ornithologists' Union (AOU). 1983. Check-list of North American Birds, 6th edition. Allen Press, Inc., Lawrence, Kansas. 877 pp.
Bellrose, F.C. 1976. Ducks, geese and swans of North America. Stackpole Books, Harrisburg, PA.
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.
Harrison, C. 1978. A Field Guide to the Nests, Eggs and Nestlings of North American Birds. Collins, Cleveland, Ohio.
Johnson, S. R. and D. R. Herter. 1989. The Birds of the Beaufort Sea. BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc., Anchorage, Alaska. 372 pp.
Kehoe, P., compiler and editor. 1994. Status and information needs of sea ducks in the Atlantic Flyway. Prepared by the Ad Hoc Sea Duck Committee. 71+ pp.
Pratt, H. D., P. L. Bruner, and D. G. Berrett. 1987. A Field Guide to the Birds of Hawaii and the Tropical Pacific. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. 409 pp. + 45 plates.
Root, T. 1988. Atlas of wintering North American birds: An analysis of Christmas Bird Count data. University of Chicago Press. 336 pp.
Terres, J. K. 1980. The Audubon Society encyclopedia of North American birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.

Please visit the website Conservation Status Ranks for definitions of the data fields used in this summary report.

Suggested Citation:

B.C. Conservation Data Centre. 1994. Species Summary: Melanitta americana. B.C. Minist. of Environment. Available: (accessed May 23, 2024).