Dead Black Scoters: a bumper crop this year?

9 12 2010

Adult male Black Scoter. Photo by Maggie Komosinksi in RI.

In addition to the expected spate of dead eiders in October, we’ve been getting reports this winter of what seems a larger than usual number of dead Black Scoters. Never common on SEANET beaches, an “unusually high” number of the species would be about a dozen or so across all SEANET beaches for the entire winter season. The birds are only found by our northeastern Seanetters, although the species’ wintering grounds apparently extend as far south as northern Florida.

Adult female Black Scoter. Note small amount of yellow around nostril and at bill margin. Found by Libby Rock on Buzzard's Bay. MA.

Last year, from November to February, we had only six Black Scoters reported on SEANET beaches (all from Long Island northward). So far this winter, we have already had ten formally reported. In addition, Seanetters and affiliated dead bird enthusiasts, have reported approximately 15-20 dead scoters on non-SEANET beaches from northern Massachusetts to Cape Cod Bay. When this winter winds down in February, we’ll have to see if the final tally of Black Scoters is really all that high for the year.

In the meantime, keep the species in mind if you find a small, black, duck-ish looking thing. While the adult male’s yellow bill knob is distinctive, it can be very difficult to differentiate adult females from immatures (of both sexes). Mature females may show a small amount of yellow around the nostril, and the breast tends to be darker in adult females. Immatures generally have a lighter breast.

Please keep an eye out, and pass along any informal encounters with scoters for our rough tally. SEANET will let you know in the Spring whether or not this was truly a good year for scoters. Or at least for scoter scouts. I suppose it’s not a good year for the dead scoters themselves.

Presumably an immature Black Scoter, unknown sex. No yellow on bill. Found by Linda McCallum on Plum Island, MA.

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