Scoters are large, mostly black or dark gray sea ducks, and the Velvet Scoter is the largest of the three species. All plumages have a white wing-patch, which distinguishes the Velvet Scoter in flight from the other two scoters, which have solid black wings. The Velvet Scoter can also be distinguished by its sloping forehead and bill, which is less bulbous than that of the others. The adult male is solid black with a white comma around a white eye. Its bill is yellow and has a dark knob at the base. The juvenile and the female have light gray patches in front of and behind their eyes, and are dark gray overall with gray bills.
Velvet Scoters spend the non-breeding part of the year in large flocks on the ocean. They feed almost exclusively by diving, taking prey from the ocean floor, and swallowing the small items under water. Scoters are strong flyers, but must get a running start along the water to get airborne.
Velvet Scoters nest on freshwater lakes and wetlands in open country in the northwest interior of North America. They winter in open, coastal environments, favoring bays and inlets with sandy shores and shellfish beds. Velvet Scoters are generally found in deeper water and farther from shore than the other scoters.
Melanitta fusca breeds in Fennoscandia and northern Russia (with a disjunct
population in the Caucasus), which together account for less than a quarter of its
global breeding range. Its European breeding population is relatively small (10%) overall.
Outside the breeding season this duck is almost exclusively a marine species. It is breeding in the arctic, boreal and temperate regions of the major part of Europe and North America. The western Eurasian population is wintering mainly in the Baltic and North seas, but small numbers reach the Atlantic coasts of France and Spain. During very cold winters some birds also reach the lakes at the foot of the Alps, e. g. in Germany. The West European population amounts to 1000000 individuals and seems stable. A few birds have been recorded in Greece (Handrinos & Akriotis). They belong probably to a small population, estimated at 1500 individuals, breeding in the Caucasus regions and wintering in the Black Sea
During winter, mollusks and crustaceans are the most common food item. During the breeding season, aquatic insect larvae become a predominant part of the diet. Crustaceans and other aquatic invertebrates are also eaten.
This species has a large range, with an estimated global Extent of Occurrence of 10,000,000 km². It has a large global population estimated to be 2,600,000-3,000,000 individuals (Wetlands International 2002). Global population trends have not been quantified, but the species is not believed to approach the thresholds for the population decline criterion of the IUCN Red List (i.e. declining more than 30% in ten years or three generations). For these reasons, the species is evaluated as Least Concern [conservation status from birdlife.org]
Velvet Scoters probably form pair bonds during migration in their second or third year. Nests are built on the ground close to water, and hidden by brush. The nest is a shallow depression lined with down and occasionally additional plant material. The female typically lays 8 to 10 eggs and incubates them for 25 to 30 days. The pair bond dissolves, and the male leaves soon after incubation begins. Pair bonds do not appear to re-form between the same birds in succeeding years. The young leave the nest shortly after hatching and feed themselves. The female tends the young and broods them at night for 1 to 3 weeks, after which she leaves them to fend for themselves. They fledge at 63 to 77 days.
Migratory. Winters mainly coastal waters of north and north-west Europe, generally closer to breeding range than Common Scoter; no large numbers south of English Channel. Tends to keep offshore, and may be overlooked among mass movements of far more numerous Common Scoter.
In north Russia, major departures of females and juveniles September and October; those of Finnish skerries in September, when migration apparent west to North Sea. Pronounced passage Baltic region October-November, and numbers increase in Danish waters before continued westerly movement; in North Sea and English Channel, peak numbers often not until January. Return movement from early March, but spring passage later than in Common Scoter, and large flocks in Danish waters until mid-May.
- spanwidth min.: 79 cm
- spanwidth max.: 97 cm
- size min.: 51 cm
- size max.: 58 cm
- incubation min.: 26 days
- incubation max.: 29 days
- fledging min.: 63 days
- fledging max.: 77 days
- broods 1
- eggs min.: 5
- eggs max.: 12
- Conservation Status