Fr: macreuse noire
Ang: Common Scoter
All: Trauerente
Esp: Negrón común
Ita: Orchetto marino
Nd: Zwarte Zee-eend
Sd: Sjöorre


John Anderson
John Anderson Photo Galleries

Otto Plantema
Trips around the world

Ingo Waschkies
Bird Photography

Text by Nicole Bouglouan

Sources :

HANDBOOK OF THE BIRDS OF THE WORLD vol 1 by Josep del Hoyo-Andrew Elliot-Jordi Sargatal - Lynx Edicions - ISBN: 8487334105


GUIDE DES CANARDS, DES OIES ET DES CYGNES – de Steve Madge - Delachaux et Niestlé - ISBN: 2603013769

Avibase (Denis Lepage)

BirdLife International

HBW Alive

ARKive (Christopher Parsons)

Animal Diversity Web (University of Michigan Museum of Zoology)


Northern Ireland Priority Species

Distribution and behaviour of Common Scoter Melanitta nigra relative to prey resources and environmental parameters

Bangor University
Prediction of the consequences of wind farm developments for common scoter

British Birds
Status and distribution of Common Scoters on the Solway Firth by Clive Hartley


Home page

Page Anseriforme Order

Summary cards


Common Scoter
Melanitta nigra

Anseriformes Order – Anatidae Family

The Common Scoter is a northern sea duck included in the genus Melanitta with four other species. It is very gregarious and usually seen in groups or larger flocks all year round, and especially during the winter.
The Common Scoter is strongly migratory and may travel very long distances over land. It makes short stopovers on inland waters. This species is almost entirely marine in winter, but it usually breeds on freshwater pools, lakes and rivers in tundra.
The Common Scoter is able to dive as deep as 30 metres to reach its preys. It is a good swimmer even in stormy weather at sea. In the air, the flight is powerful.

Length: 43-54 cm
Wingspan: 79-90 cm
Weight: M: 965-1340 g – F: 973-1230 g

The adult male has black plumage overall with violet-blue gloss on the upperparts, and mostly glossed green on the underparts. The flight feathers are dull black without sheen. The underwing is greyer.
The broad bill is black with yellow patch on knob and culmen. The eyes are dark brown. Legs and webbed feet are greyish-black.

The adult female has brownish-black crown and nape, whereas cheeks, face and neck are paler, mostly greyish-brown to whitish. The body plumage is dark brown, slightly glossed on breast and belly. The feathers show paler brown tips. The flight feathers are dark brown with paler webs.
The bill is dark, often blackish. The eyes are brown. Legs and feet are blackish.

The juvenile resembles female with paler underparts and lower half of head.
The first winter male has brown wing-coverts, flight feathers and underwing coverts. Legs and feet are greener or greyer than in adults.
The second winter male has yellow eyering and basal knob on bill. Wing-coverts and flight feathers are black.
The young female resembles adult by the first year.

First winter male

The Common Scoter breeds in E Greenland, Iceland and N Britain, E across Scandinavia and N Russia to R Olenek in Siberia.  
This species winters in coastal waters in Baltic Sea, on the Atlantic coast of Europe and North Africa S to Mauretania. It is rare during migration on lakes of C Europe and W Mediterranean, Black Sea and Caspian Sea.

The Common Scoter breeds on freshwater lakes, pools, slow-flowing rivers and streams in the Arctic tundra, and in open habitats in sub-Arctic regions. It needs scattered trees and suitable nesting cover. It usually avoids the wet areas surrounded by forest, and the steep slopes.
It winters at sea, usually in shallow waters. It can be seen between 500 metres and 2 kilometres offshore. During migration, it often visits fresh inland waters.

The Common Scoter is usually silent. However, the male is more vocal during the courtship displays and on spring migration, uttering high, mellow piping whistles “pew,pew,pew”. The female produces harsh, rasping notes.
While migrating at night, male and female give “gyu” calls. Male’s wings produce a sharp whistling sound on take-off.

The Common Scoter feeds on insect larvae, freshwater crustaceans, molluscs and aquatic plant (roots, bulbs) during the breeding season. Worms and small fish are also taken.
During winter, it feeds mostly on saltwater molluscs according to prey abundance. The preys vary depending on the winter range, and are usually supplemented by echinoderms, crustaceans, annelid worms and amphipods. The ducklings feed mainly on seeds and insects caught from the water surface. Then, they have the same diet that their mother.

The Common Scoter feeds by diving, usually to 1-4 metres, but sometimes up to 30 metres. It dives with a short forward jump while the wings are closed. They dive individually or in group, and dive almost simultaneously and resurface together or over a period of a few seconds.
The feeding areas at sea are often restricted to water of less than 20 metres depth, where the birds can find benthic prey species.

The pair forms in winter, but courtship continue into May, with usually a single female with several males in small courting groups.
The usual male’s displays consists of upward stretch of the head, tail snap, forward rush, flicking of water with the bill, breast preening, forward stretch, erect and head shake. All these displays are typical of Anatidae.

The female is usually aggressive towards the male and she may rush him in turn. When a male is selected by a female, she adopts a head stretch posture and calls. They appear to be monogamous for the season. After mating, the female bathes and the male performs tail snap while swimming, low rush and upward shake.

The Common Scoter is migratory and moves S to winter along the coasts of W Europe and W North Africa, from Norway to Mauretania. Numerous birds winter in the Baltic Sea.
Females and juveniles leave the breeding grounds in September. The non-breeding birds often remain in the wintering grounds during the summer. Males and immature birds move away from the breeding sites in June for moulting.  

While migrating, they fly in long undulating lines or in small compact groups. They fly very high above land, but fairly low above the water. The flight is powerful. The Common Scoter takes off more easily than other sea ducks.

The breeding season starts in late May/June. The Common Scoter breeds in single pairs. The nest is on the ground, a scrape lined with grass, moss, lichen and down. It is usually hidden among vegetation and often near water.

The female lays 6-8 creamy-white/buff eggs and incubates alone during 27-31 days, while the male leaves the breeding grounds. At hatching, the chicks are grey-brown to dark brown above and on breast, and pale greyish below. The bill is grey-brown with reddish nail and yellowish nostrils. They are able to swim and feed soon after hatching. They can fly at 45 days old. They fledge 45-50 days after hatching. They are sexually mature at 2-3 years. They migrate with the female in September.

The Common Scoter has wide range and the global population is estimated to number 1,600,000 individuals, including more than 1,000,000 mature birds.
The Common Scoter is vulnerable during the moulting period when the birds are unable to fly. They are highly vulnerable to oil spills, oil pollution, human disturbances and degradation of food resources. They are affected by disturbances from high-speed ferries in some areas.
They are threatened by offshore wind farms on the coasts of W Europe. Competition for food with commercial exploitations is an important threat too.
But in spite of these threats and some declines, the Common Scoter is currently evaluated as Least Concern.
However, the UK breeding population has significantly declined and is now a Red List Species. More than half of numbers drooped over the last 25 years, and only 50 airs are remaining in UK. A few pairs still breed in Scotland, but it is extinct as breeding species in Northern Ireland.