Birds – American Scoter

(Oidemia americana)


Length—19 to 20 inches.

Male—Entire plumage black, more glossy above. Upper half of bill, which is tumid, or bulging, is yellow or orange at the base.

Female—Sooty brown above, waved with obscure dusky lines; throat and sides of head whitish; dirty white underneath; bill dark, but not bulging nor parti-colored. Young resemble the mother.

Range—Seacoasts and large bodies of inland waters of northern North America; nesting from Labrador inland, and migrating in winter to New England and the Middle Atlantic States and to California.

Season—Winter resident and visitor.

The three species of coots, or scoters, that come out of the north to visit us in winter have neither fine feathers nor edible flesh to recommend them to popular notice; nor do they seem to possess any unique traits of character or singular habits to excite our lively interest. Their chief concern in life appears to be diving for mussels, clams, small fry, and mollusks in the estuaries of rivers and shallow sounds along our coasts. Some go to large bodies of inland waters for the same purpose. As this active exercise toughens their muscles to a leather-like quality, and as the fish food gives their reddish, dark flesh a rank flavor, the poultry dealer who sells one of these birds to an uninitiated housekeeper for black duck loses a customer.

Most friendly with its own kin, the American coot may usually be found in flocks of white-winged and surf scoters, eiders, and other sea ducks, where they congregate above beds of shell fish ; and, at least while in the United States, the habits of all these birds appear to be identical. But they are as shy of men as if their breasts were covered with more desirable meat, and dive when approached rather than take to wing and expose their precious ugliness to an unoffending field-glass. Human friendship is discouraged by them, however much their long list of common names, which are as often applied to one species as another, falsely testifies to their popularity.

Ridgway describes their nests as on the ground, near water, and containing from six to ten pale dull buff or pale brownish buff eggs.

The White-winged Scoter or Coot (Oidemia deglandi), which is sometimes called Velvet Duck, differs from the preceding in plumage only, in having a white patch under the eye, a white mirror, or speculum, on wings, and orange-colored legs, much the same shade as its protuberant bill, which is feathered beyond the corners of the mouth. Possibly it goes farther away from water than the other scoters to place its nest under a bush on the ground, but the habits of all three species appear to be generally the same, and like those of nearly all sea ducks.

The Surf Scoter, or Sea Coot (Oidemia perspicillata), has a square white mark on the crown of its head and a triangular one on the nape, to distinguish it from its sombre and rather uninteresting relatives.