Velvet Scoter

Melanitta fusca

Larger than the Common Scoter this elegant European diving duck spends much of its time at sea and is often seen in company with mixed flocks resting on the water’s surface far out from land.

Velvet Scoter

Length:

52cm to 59cm

Wingspan:

90cm to 99cm

Weight:

1.1kg to 2kg

What does a Velvet Scoter look like?

The adult male (drake) is predominantly very dark to black all over apart from startling white secondary flight feathers, seen as a thin white line when the wings are folded and featuring prominently as a broad white wing patch which is obvious in flight. There is also a small white eye patch immediately below the eye. During the summer months the male’s black body assumes a slightly lighter brown tone. The bill is mainly yellow, particularly on the sides but the upper ridge of the bill otherwise known as the culmen, is black and swollen. The cutting edges of the bill are also black. The eyes are a pale greyish blue. Legs and feet of males and females are red in colour with dark grey webs. The adult female (duck) has a dark brown body with a light grey patch below the eye and also on the cheek. The neck is thick and the eyes are brown. The bill is dark and tapers to a long tip. Like the adult male the female has a white speculum (area of secondary flight feathers) clearly noticeable during flight. Juveniles are similar to the female but with larger whitish facial patches and lighter colouration across the breast.

Velvet Scoter

Velvet Scoter

Velvet Scoter on the ground

Velvet Scoter on the ground

What does a Velvet Scoter sound like?

Generally considered a silent bird the drake will issue a ‘vak – vak’ sound, mainly during the breeding season whilst the female can be heard in flight using a, ‘kraaah – kraaah – kra’ call.

Velvet Scoter flight call (female)

Lars Edenius, XC610920. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/610920.

Female Velvet Scoter

Female Velvet Scoter

What does a Velvet Scoter eat?

Diving down from the water’s surface in both fresh and salt water the velvet scoter survives on a diet of crustaceans, molluscs and small fish including crabs, marine worms, shellfish and shrimps.

Portrait of a Velvet Scoter

Portrait of a Velvet Scoter

Distribution

Often breeding in remote tundra or boreal forests, close to fresh water, in Scandinavia and Estonia with much smaller groups also breeding in isolated areas of central Siberia, Kazakhstan and Turkey. They winter in the coastal waters of the North Sea, The Baltic, the sea coasts of Western Europe south as far as the Mediterranean and the Black and Caspian Seas and rarely go ashore.

Velvet Scoter in flight

Velvet Scoter in flight

Signs and Spotting tips

Velvet scoters are sociable birds often spotted flying parallel to the coast in long lines of large flocks or drifting, forming rafts on the sea, engaged in synchronous diving for food, in company with the much smaller and uniformly black, common scoters. In flight they fly fast and low with a strong wingbeat. As with many ducks who have distinguishing speculums, the bright white patch on the upper and lower wing area are an ideal aid to positive identification.

Female Velvet Scoter

Female Velvet Scoter

Breeding

Nests are normally built in ground hollows close to water and are lined with fine foliage or down. Between May to July one clutch of 6 – 8 cream coloured eggs are laid annually and incubated by the female alone for up to twenty nine days. Fledging occurs between fifty and fifty five days after hatching.

Juvenile velvet scoter

Juvenile Velvet Scoter

Portrait of female velvet scoter

Portait of a female Velvet Scoter

How long do Velvet Scoters live for?

Life expectancy for the velvet scoter averages between ten to twelve years.

Similar birds to a Velvet Scoter

Other birds in the Ducks, geese and swans family