Conservation status Numbers are thought to be declining. Flocks at sea are vulnerable to oil spills and other pollution.
Family Ducks and Geese
Habitat Seacoasts; in summer, coastal tundra. Breeding habitat includes low-lying wet tundra and higher slopes in treeless terrain, also openings around lakes in northern forest. In winter mostly on bays and along exposed coastlines, usually over shallow water within a mile of shore. Migrants stop on Great Lakes and other fresh waters, some remaining for winter.
Was once called 'Common Scoter,' but that name is now restricted to a similar species in the Old World. The Black Scoter is generally seen less often than the other two kinds of scoters in most parts of North America. Floats rather buoyantly on water, often with tail cocked up noticeably. On northern waters, more vocal than the other two scoters, giving clear whistled calls.

Feeding Behavior

Forages by diving and swimming underwater, propelled by feet; wings may be folded or partly opened.


7-8, sometimes 5-11. Whitish to pale buff. Incubation is by female, roughly 27-33 days. Young: Leave nest shortly after hatching and go to water. Female tends young (and broods them at night while small), but young feed themselves. Age at first flight about 6-7 weeks.


Leave nest shortly after hatching and go to water. Female tends young (and broods them at night while small), but young feed themselves. Age at first flight about 6-7 weeks.


Mainly mollusks, insects. At sea feeds mainly on mollusks, especially mussels and other bivalves; also crustaceans, marine worms, echinoderms. In summer on fresh water eats many aquatic insects, also fish eggs, mollusks, small fish, some plant material.


Several males may court one female, surrounding her on water. Displays of male include rushing along surface of water with back hunched and head low, bowing jerkily while calling, and quickly snapping tail up to vertical position over back. Nest site is on ground, usually near water, often on a hummock or ridge on tundra, generally hidden by grasses or low scrub. Nest (built by female) is a shallow depression lined with plant material and with down.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

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Tends to migrate early in spring and late in fall. In migration along coast, flocks fly low over sea well offshore. When traveling overland, may make long nonstop flights at high altitude.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon

See a fully interactive migration map for this species on the Bird Migration Explorer.

Learn more

Songs and Calls

In spring a musical whistled cour-loo.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Black Scoter

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.

Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.

Climate Threats Near You

Climate threats facing the Black Scoter

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.