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Birds of the Western Slope Dec. 13, 2017

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Photo courtesy Carnell Lab of Ornithology Surf Scoter

Surf Scoter

Long ago, when Martha Mohan and I went to the Grays Harbor Shorebird Festival in Olympia, Wash., I saw for the first time in my life sea scoters. There were three of them, and I had a difficult time figuring them out.

The surf scoter had a more colorful, orange bill with a black and white patch on it and a white head patch. The white-winged scoter had an orange bill with a tiny white and black marking at a base of the bill. The black scoter had a yellowish orange bill and appeared to be totally black.

The white-winged scoter has a broad white wing-patch, but of course the birds were all swimming (nobody flying!). I finally figured out the surf scoter with his colorful bill and the white spot on his head. But then I was stuck! The guide showed a curious white mark (like a comma?) on the white-winged, but they were too far away to tell much. So I left Washington "recognizing" a surf scoter and knowing that there was so much more to be learned!

And now these birds have been reported in Colorado. Amazing! I have followed the sightings on the Western Slope Bird Net (WSBN) for several years and it is fascinating! Today's mail included the white-winged scoter courtesy of Carol Ortenzia at Fruita State Park.

I've heard various pronunciations of the name. First with a "short O" as in "cop," second was with a "long O" as in "coat," and even with a "double oo" as in "cool."

The Birders' Handbook mentions that when foraging offshore, the birds "scoot" through the waves.

From Sibleys Guide, I'd guess that the outlandish bill is a form of breeding decoration for the surf scoter. I would never have guessed the blue eye. The Birders' Handbook states that the female builds a nest and that the male deserts when incubation begins. The nest usually is found inland along slow moving streams.

Diet is mostly crustaceans and mollusks. Incubation and fledgling times are unknown -- it's the least studied of ducks. The chicks are all precocial (able to fend for themselves). The three species of scoters look alike (except for the bill of the surf.)

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Birds of the Western Slope, Evelyn Horn
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