Birds – The Scoters

(Oidemia), or “Coots” as they are sometimes called, are large surf or sea Ducks in which the large, strong bill is usually much swollen at the base. The bill is also brightly colored with yellow, orange, or red. The males are, in general, uniform black, relieved in some cases with white on the wing or with white patches on the head, while the females are mostly plain brownish, lighter and more grayish beneath. They have short, strong legs placed far back on the body, large feet, and strong wings. All are natives of the Northern Hemisphere, although not so distinctly Arctic as the Eiders, four of the six species (one of which is perhaps accidental) being found in North America. The habits of all the species are practically the same. As a rule they are found only on the sea or its estuaries, where they feed almost exclusively on mollusks, such as the black mussel, shallops, and razor-shells. These they obtain by diving, often to a depth of forty feet, though they prefer water less than half this depth. As an indication of how large a shell-fish they can swallow, Mackay mentions mussels two and one half by one inch as having been taken from them. Eight or ten of the ordinary size constitute a meal. The Scoters are described as unusually silent birds, depending mainly upon sight in discovering their companions. The devotion of the male to his mate is very marked, and when she is killed he will return again and again to the place where he last saw her though repeatedly shot at. Another peculiarity, noted by Mackay, who has enjoyed exceptional opportunity of observing them off the New England coast, is that “when wounded and closely pursued, they will frequently dive to the bottom and retain hold of rockweed with the bill until drowned, preferring thus to die than to come to the surface to be captured.”