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.
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 on the ground
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
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
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 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
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
Portait of a female Velvet Scoter
Life expectancy for the velvet scoter averages between ten to twelve years.
This large bird arrives on our shores from Iceland to overwinter in late September, returning northwards to breed from mid March onwards.
During the winter the population of this rare resident breeding duck increases by 55 times to that of the summer, with the influx of many thousands of others overwintering, having arrived from Russia and Eastern Europe.
A native of Japan and China, the mandarin duck was first introduced into the UK in the 18th century and started populations in the wild in the 1930’s following escapes from captivity. The UK population is estimated to be in the region of 7,000 birds.
Widespread throughout the northern hemisphere, the common merganser is the largest of the saw billed fish eating ducks. There are three sub-species with the Eurasian variant frequently known as the Goosander.
Regarded as being sacred by early Egyptians, this native goose of the African continent was introduced into Europe and elsewhere as an ornamental wildfowl species in the late seventeenth and eighteenth century.
The word scoter is often used to define northern sea ducks. There are six different species of scoter, all of which are monotypic and three of which are confined to North America. The Common Scoter like the Velvet Scoter can only be found in Europe and Asia whilst the Stejneger’s Scoter is a native of Asia alone.
This large bodied goose is both adaptable and social having been imported into Europe and Asia from its native lands in North America. A monogamous bird which pairs for life, it is considered a pest in some areas as being both messy and aggressive, particularly within urban environments.
Winter visitors to the UK, formerly considered a full species, but now considered a sub-species of the Tundra Swan.