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BC Conservation Data Centre: Species Summary

Melanitta perspicillata
Surf Scoter

Scientific Name: Melanitta perspicillata (Linnaeus, 1758)
English Name: Surf Scoter
Classification / Taxonomy
Scientific Name - Concept Reference: American Ornithologists' Union (AOU). 1998. Check-list of North American birds. Seventh edition. American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C. [as modified by subsequent supplements and corrections published in The Auk]. Also available online:
Classification Level: Species
Species Group: Vertebrate Animal
Species Code: B-SUSC
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Craniata Aves Anseriformes Anatidae
Conservation Status / Legal Designation
Global Status: G5 (Apr 2016)
Provincial Status: S3B,S4N (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: Breeding begins generally around mid-June. 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. Incubation is done by female (male departs). Precocial young are tended by female.
Migration Characteristics:
(Global / Provincial)
    Local Migrant:
    Distant Migrant:
    Within Borders Migrant:
N /
N /
Y /
na /
Global Migration Comments: Migrates northward in flocks along coast with peak in April-May. Migrates southward from breeding grounds late August-October. In Beaufort Sea area, westward migration of males to molting areas occurs in late spring-early summer.
(Type / Subtype / Dependence)
Lakes / Lake / Facultative - frequent use
Lakes / Pond/Open Water / Facultative - frequent use
Ocean / Sheltered Waters - Marine / Facultative - frequent use
Ocean / Subtidal Marine / Facultative - frequent use
Riparian / Riparian Forest / Facultative - frequent use
Riparian / Riparian Herbaceous / Facultative - occasional use
Riparian / Riparian Shrub / Facultative - occasional use
Global Habitat Comments: Nonbreeding: primarily marine littoral areas, less frequently in bays or on freshwater lakes and rivers (AOU 1983). Nests in brushy tundra, in freshwater marsh, or in wooded area near pond, bog, or stream. Nests on the ground in an area protected by vegetative cover. The nest is a depression lined with plant material and down.
Food Habits: Invertivore: Adult, Immature
Global Food Habits Comments: Eats mainly invertebrates; mollusks (especially blue mussel and other bivalves), crustaceans and aquatic insects. In summer also some plant food (pondweeds, wild celery, muskgrass and seeds of sedges and bulrushes). May dive to depths of 2-9 m and stay under water 19-32 seconds (Terres 1980).
Global Phenology: Diurnal: Adult, Immature
Provincial Phenology:
(1st half of month/
2nd half of month)
Colonial Breeder: N
Length(cm)/width(cm)/Weight(g): 51/ / 1000
Elevation (m) (min / max): Global: 
Endemic: N
Global Range Comment: BREEDS: western Alaska (scattered nesting in northern Alaska?), Mackenzie Delta, northern Prairie Provinces, to James Bay and Newfoundland; central Labrador; possibly northeastern Siberia. WINTERS: primarily coastal from Aleutian Islands to Baja California and Gulf of California (mainly coast of southeastern Alaska and British Columbia, also the coast near San Diego); Nova Scotia to Florida, Gulf Coast (rarely); Great Lakes; casual in other areas; accidental in Hawaii (Oahu). 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.
Morrier, A., L. Lesage, A. Reed, and J.-P. L. Savard. 1997 Etude sur l'ecologie de la Macreuse a front blanc au lac Malbaie, Reserve des Laurentides--1994-1995. Canadian Wildlife Service, QC, Technical Report Series no. 301.
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 perspicillata. B.C. Minist. of Environment. Available: (accessed Jun 15, 2024).