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Black Scoter Duck, Melanitta nigra

 Black Scoter Melanitta nigra, male, Photo Credit: Len Blumin
Black Scoter Melanitta nigra, male, Photo Credit: Len Blumin

A rare late fall and winter visitor to Tennessee, the Black Scoter is the only all black duck in North America. This scoter is very vocal, often being located from miles away by their constant, melodious whistle.  It is an elusive species often found in mixed flocks.

Description: The Black Scoter is a large, diving, all-black, migratory sea duck of North America. Males have a diagnostic bright yellow-orange knob at the base of its black bill.

Females are sooty brown with full light cheeks and a dark cap and thin bill.  In flight both sexes show a silvery-gray sheen that contrast with the black of the underwings.  Black Scoters fly in straight and V formations with rapid, direct, strong wing beats their wings making a whistling sound.

Length: 19 inches

Wingspan: 28 inches

Weight: 2.1 lbs

Voice: Male makes a mellow, song-like cour-loo,cour-loooo and in courtship will whistle.  The female’s call is a low hoarse growl.

Similar Species:

  • Surf Scoter - Male has distinct white head patches, all black body and multi-colored large heavy bill. Female is dusky brown with white patches on sides of face and pale patch on nape.
  • White-winged Scoter – female with similar whitish face patches, but has large white wing patch and sloping forehead. Male has red, white and orange bill with black knob at base and “teardrop” of white near his eye and the distinct white wing patch.

Habitat: In Tennessee, Black Scoters can occasionally be found on freshwater lakes.  Sometimes they are found among large flocks of waterfowl.

Diet: Mollusks, crustaceans and small fish.

Nesting and reproduction: There are no known records of this species nesting in Tennessee.

Status in Tennessee: The Black Scoter is a rare migrant in early spring and late fall occasionally found in winter in Tennessee.

Dynamic map of Black Scoter eBird observations in Tennessee

Fun Facts:

  • Thought to be one of the most “musical” ducks, males make a melancholy, mellow cooing call.
  • Black Scoter’s name in French is ‘macreuse noire’

Obsolete English Names: American Scoter and Common Scoter

Best places to see in Tennessee: Nickajack Dam, Paris Landing State Park, Big Sandy Unit of Tennessee NWR, Radnor Lake, Percy Priest Lake, TVA Lakes

 Black Scoter
Black Scoter Melanitta nigra, male, Photo Credit: Len Blumin

Sources:

Sibley, D. A. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. A. A. Knopf, New York, NY.

Alsop, F.J, 2001, Birds of North America, DK Publishing, New York, NY

Bordage, Daniel and Jean-Pierre L. Savard. 1995. Black Scoter (Melanitta americana), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online:

Peterson, R.T., 2002, Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America, Houghton Mifflin, New York, New York