Kingdoms / Animalia / Craniata / Aves / Anseriformes / Anatidae / Melanitta / Species
< > Melanitta nigra - Black scoter (Click photographs/illustrations: full picture & further details)
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General and References

Alternative Names (Synonyms)

Common scoter
American scoter
Trauerente (German)
Macreuse noire (French)
Negrón común (Spanish)
Anade negro marino común (Spanish)
Zwarte Zeeëend (Dutch)
Sjöorre (Swedish)
Melanitta nigra nigra - European black scoter
Melanitta nigra americana - Pacific black scoter
Oedemia nigra

Names for newly-hatched

Duckling, downy.

Names for non-breeding males or other colour-phases


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Species Author

Debra Bourne

Major References

B1, B2, B3, B6, B8, B19, B25, B26, B27.

Other references:

Aviculture references:
B7, B29, B30, B40, B94, B97, B129
D1, D8

(UK Contacts)

(Further Reading)
Click image for full contents list of ELECTRONIC LIBRARY

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TAXA Group (where information has been collated for an entire group on a modular basis)

Parent Group

Specific Needs Group referenced in Management Techniques

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Aviculture Information


General information:
  • Seaducks are generally winter-hardy and sociable. They are preferably kept on a large area of clean, cold, deep water, at least some of which (preferably half the area) should be more than 60cm and preferably more than1m deep. As with other diving ducks, most species are relatively ungainly on land and ponds should have shallow sloping banks. Some cover along the pond edges will generally be appreciated. Preferred nesting sites vary greatly within this group, from open ground nesting to thick vegetation and tree holes.
  • Diets of grain, pellets fish and seafood may be used, also bread. These ducks generally need a higher-protein diet than most waterfowl species and high-protein pelleted diets specifically designed for seaducks are now available, although supplementation with fish may still be important particularly for breeding.
  • Feeding in troughs containing stones may avoid the development of overgrown bills. Provision of salt water may decrease the incidence of fungal and other infections.
  • Ducklings may be given high-protein starter crumbs and live food, and provided with access to deep water for swimming from an early age.
  • Scoters are not commonly kept in captivity. Cold, pure water and a high quality diet are thought to be important in their maintenance. In captive conditions they are prone to respiratory infections and particularly to fungal infections. They appear to do well fed on dry commercial diets once acclimatised (in the case of adult-caught birds, for example birds rescued after oiling). They can be aggressive.

(B7, B29, B30, B40, B94, B129, D1)

Species-specific information:

  • Black scoters require a large area of water, including deep water (at least one metre deep) and with natural food available as well as supplementary feeding.
  • These ducks are bred in only a few collections . Natural close cover and open cover should be available for nesting. Eggs are normally laid May to June. Ducklings have been successfully hand reared.
  • Hybridisation has been reported with Anas penelope - Eurasian wigeon (B97).

(B8, B29, B30, B97, B129, D1)

Aviornis UK Ringing Scheme recommended average ring size: N 13.0mm (D8).

Individual Techniques linked in Wildpro

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External Appearance (Morphology)

Measurement & Weight

Length 17-21 inches 43-51cm (B3); 43-54cm (B1)
Adult weight General 703-1363g (B1).
Male Average about 1,100g, maximum 1,268g (B3); Melanitta nigra nigra mean 2.3 lbs., Melanitta nigra americana mean 2.4 lbs. (B8).
Female Average about 950g maximum 1,087g (B3); Melanitta nigra nigra mean 2.1 lbs., Melanitta nigra americana mean 1.8 lbs. (B8).
Newly-hatched weight --
Growth rate --

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Adult Bill Male Black with yellow central patch (over nostrils), and black knob at base, this sometimes with central yellow line (B2, B6, B8, B25, B26).

Melanitta nigra americana Black with orange, swollen base (B6, B8, B25, B26) .

Variations (If present) Female: Blackish (B2, B3, B6, B8, B25, B26).
Eyes (Iris) Male Brown (B2, B3, B6, B8, B25).
Variations(If present) --
Juvenile Bill Blackish (B6, B25).
Eyes (Iris) Brown (B2, B3, B6, B25).

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Adult Male Brown/grey-black, darker webs (B2, B3, B6, B25).
Variations (If present) Female: dark olive/brown/grey, darker webs (B2, B3, B6, B25).
Juvenile Olive/green/brown/grey (B2, B3, B6, B25).

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Adult Male Glossy purple-black (B2, B3, B6, B8, B25, B26).
Variations (If present) Female:- Head and neck - crown and hindneck very dark brown, from below eyes including chin, throat and foreneck, pale grey-brown. Otherwise dark brown with paler feather tipping and whitish mottling on abdomen.(B25, B26)
Juvenile Similar to female, but white barring on abdomen (B3, B6, B25).

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Newly-hatched Characteristics

General: Upperparts including breast black-brown, small white spot above eye; underparts including sides of face below eye greyish (B2, B6).
Bill: Dark grey/horn, red nail (B2, B6).
Feet: Dark green-grey (B2, B6).

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Reproductive Season

Time of year Begins May/June (B1, B3, B8, B25, B26, B27)
No. of Clutches Re-nest if clutch lost (B3).

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Nest placement and structure

Nest on ground close to water, hidden in vegetation, scrape with grass, moss, lichens and lined with down (B1, B3, B6, B8, B25, B26, B27)

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Egg clutches

No. of Eggs Average 6-8 (B1, B8).
Range 5-11 (B1), 5-10 (B27), 6-11 (B8).
Egg Description Cream, pink-buff or pale buff (B3, B8, B26); size: 66x54mm, weight: 72g (B3).

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30-31 days (B1, B27); 27-31 days (B8).

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45-50 days (B1, B2, B8).

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Sexual Maturity

Males Two to three years old (B1, B2, B3).
Females Two to three years old (B1, B2, B3).

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Feeding Behaviour

Adults Dives to feed, often dives in unison (B1, B6, B25).
Newly-hatched Take insects from surface and from air (B2).

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Parental Behaviour

Nest-building Solitary nests, built by female (B1, B2, B25)
Incubation By female, male departs during incubation (B2, B3, B8, B25)
Newly-hatched Tended by female, brooded at night initially. (B2) Female may carry ducklings on her back (B8). Sometimes broods amalgamate, but not frequently (B2, B3, B8)

Independent about time of fledging (B2).

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Social Behaviour

Intra-specific Highly gregarious except when breeding. Males gather to moult. Usually found in small to large flocks, male and female flocks may form in winter (males further north) (B2, B25, B26)
Inter-specific --

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Sexual Behaviour

Seasonal monogamous pair bonds, pairing begins late winter, continues in spring; males abandon females during incubation (B2, B3, B8, B25, B26)

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Predation in Wild

Corvuc corone cornix - hooded crows and Pica pica - magpies take eggs and ducklings (B8).

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Activity Patterns

Rarely seen on land except for breeding. Roost communally at sea, also periodically loaf on water during the day and, rarely, on islets or sandbanks (B2, B26)
Circadian Mainly daytime feeders (B2)

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Natural Diet


Mainly molluscs, also other aquatic invertebrates, insects, and small fish, frogs, tadpoles, fish spawn, some seeds, roots, tubers (B1, B2, B6, B26, B27).

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Small molluscs, insects and aquatic insect larvae and seeds (B2, B8).

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Range and Habitat

Distribution and Movement (Migration etc.)

Normal Melanitta nigra nigra Iceland, Faro Islands, Spitsbergen, across northern Europe (including Scotland, Shetlands, Orkneys, Ireland) and Asia to Lena River, Siberia. Melanitta nigra americana from Lena River, Siberia eastward to Kamchatka Peninsula, Kurile Islands, Alaska, also eastern Canada to Newfoundland (B1, B19, B26, B27).

Migrates: to Atlantic coasts of northern Europe and northern Africa, western Mediterranean, north-eastern North America; in Pacific on coast of North America, Aleutian Islands, former USSR, Japan, Korea, eastern China. Inland on large lakes (e.g. Great Lakes)(B1).

Melanitta nigra nigra south as far as Mediterranean, Black, Caspian seas; Melanitta nigra americana to eastern China, Japan, North American coasts as far as northern Baja California (B19)

Common on south and east coasts of Britain in winter, also found in north-west and west coast (B27)

  • London: In the London Area, "passage migrant and occasionally winter visitor, never numerous." Seen e.g. Barking Bay/Marsh, Rainham Marsh, Staines Resrvoir, HIlfield Park Reservoir, Queen Mother Reservoir, Queen Elizabeth II Reservoir etc. in 2000. (J322.65.w1)

Considerable moult migrations (B2, B3, B25, B26).

Occasional and Accidental

Irregularly occurs further south (B1).

Melanitta nigra nigra vagrants reach Azores, Madeira, Canary Islands, Libya, eastern Mediterranean, Persian Gulf, Hungary, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Yugoslavia, Greece, Rumania, Bulgaria, Turkey, and also Greenland. Melanitta nigra americana vagrants to Hawaiian Islands, Florida, Louisiana, inland USA and very rarely to British Isles, Netherlands (B2, B25).



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Pools, small lakes, streams in tundra, open or lightly wooded country. Winters in shallow coastal waters - inshore waters, bays, estuary mouths. Occasionally on inland freshwater lakes in migration (B1, B2, B19, B25, B26)

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Intraspecific variation

Melanitta nigra nigra - European black scoter, differs from Melanitta nigra americana - Pacific black scoter, mainly in bill of males: black with yellow central patch (over nostrils), and black knob at base, versus black with orange base, respectively (B1, B8, B25).

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Conservation Status

Wild Population -

Not globally threatened. Widespread and common, although some decline (B1,B8)

General Legislation
  • This species is listed on Schedule 1 - Part I (Birds protected by special penalties: Notes on the revised schedules state "Birds protected by special penalties at all times") of the LUK2 - Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 of the United Kingdom. (W5.Oct01)
CITES listing Listing not yet included.
Red-data book listing Listing not yet included.
Threats Loss of breeding habitat, oils spills (B1, B8)

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Captive Populations

European rather more common than American, and only a few collections breeding (B8)

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