Surf Scoter    Melanitta perspicillata

This pair of Surf Scoters are patiently waiting out the winter months in south Puget Sound.  The male sports a very distinctive black and white head contrasting with the orange bill tip.  Females are dull with only a small white cheek patch and a dark bill.  

Groups of Surf Scoters can be found in the nearshore area of local inlets during the day feeding on a variety of invertebrates such as small clams, mussels, and small crustaceans.  Small groups often dive in a synchronous fashion.  They propel themselves underwater with both their feet and their slightly extended wings.  At night they gather in large resting flocks in the middle of local bays, but most commonly at the east end of Dana Pass.  

During the spring they feed on herring spawn, building fat for their spring migration to breeding grounds in northern Canada.  They migrate from Pacific coast wintering grounds, ranging from Baja to Alaska, to staging areas in southeast Alaska before flying inland to large lakes.  There they build nests on the ground under brush or clumps of grass.

Research by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has found that Surf Scoter population numbers have fallen over the years in south Puget Sound, while in other Puget Sound areas the numbers have remained steady.  However their numbers have declined in other parts of the Pacific coast.  The reasons for this decline are not known, but speculation centers on declines in the herring population and possibly heavy metal contamination.  Like other marine birds they are also at risk from oil spills.