If the name “Surf” Scoters makes you think of pounding waves and rocky shores then you are on the right track. These diving ducks do spend their winters diving through the ocean waves in both the Pacific and the Atlantic hunting for mollusks like small blue mussels. A few, though, visit Lake Ontario each winter to enjoy a different environment and some of our local specialty: zebra mussels. When a pair made a visit to Colonel Sam Smith Park, I did too, to take some photos and see them.
A Somewhat Drab Duck with an Amusing Bill
Female Surf Scoters would not be particularly noticeable birds if they didn’t have their interesting bills. In particular, the male Surf Scoter has quite a collection of colours on his and the knobbly bump makes it more pronounced. (The Male also has a white patch on the front of its head which can in some birds look like a really wide white piece of duct tape.)
The amusing thing, to me, though, is that you can see right through the nose and out to the big blue lake beyond if you get the correct angle. It looks like a bullet passed clean through and left only a tunnel.
They share this feature with White Winged Scoters. If I ever get to see Black Scoters I will be looking to see if they also have a see-through nostril.
Surf Scoters Paired Up for Spring
According to the Audubon Guide to North American Birds website Surf Scoters pair up on the wintering grounds before heading way, way north to lay their eggs. Certainly these two stayed close together during the 30 minutes I watched them from the icy snowy shore. The female had her head tucked in for almost the entire time and I’m sure she was resting but I’m not convinced she was asleep. She kept swimming along the shore with her partner even though she didn’t raise her head.
The female Surf Scoter finally takes a look around.
Perhaps I look more spiffy with my tail up?
When she did finally take a look around, the male became very alert and his tail snapped up. From what I could find online about courting displays, however, this is not described. So he may just have thought he looked better this way.
White Winged Scoters are More Common in the West End of Lake Ontario
I’ve mentioned another type of Scoter on this site before, the White Winged Scoter. They are not a common bird like Greater Scaup but they are not unusual. In a raft of diving ducks, they can be spotted fairly easily by their larger size and overall impression of being dark birds with a white slash on the wings to make them quite noticeable. Mature males have a white “comma” through their eyes.
This White Winged Scoter also has a hole through its nose.
While looking for the Surf Scoters, I also found several White Winged Scoters. They are commonly seen in February from the shores of JC Saddington Park and at the Bronte Harbour Marina.
Have you seen any Scoters on a lake or ocean near you? Which type were they? Did you find their nostrils amusing? Please share your sightings with a comment.