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White-winged Scoter

Melanitta fusca

Length: 20 to 24 inches Wingspan: 34 to 40 inches Seasonality: Rare Visitor
ID Keys: White wing patch visible in flight, white teardrop on eye (male), dark body

White-winged Scoter - Melanitta fuscaThe White-winged Scoter, the largest of the Scoters, is also the Scoter most likely to be found in South Dakota.  The white wing patch that gives the species its name is sometimes hidden while swimming, but is very visible in flight.  Although they breed on freshwater lakes, ponds, and rivers of Canada and Alaska, they primarily migrate to coastal habitats for the winter.

Habitat: In summer, can be found in a variety of aquatic habitats in open country, including ponds, lakes, and slow rivers.  In winter, they are primarily along coastal waters, with some on the Great Lakes and other large inland water bodies.

Diet: Primarily feeds on mollusks.  Will also feed on crustaceans, small fish, aquatic insects, and some aquatic plants.

Behavior: Dives underwater to forage, propelling itself by its feet.

Breeding: Non-breeder in South Dakota

Song: Often silent, but both sexes have a whistling note in courtship, and low croaks.

Migration: Summers throughout much of Canada and Alaska.  Winters along both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of North America. They are relatively rare migrants in South Dakota.

Interactive eBird map: Click here to access an interactive eBird map of White-winged Scoter sightings

Similar Species: Surf Scoter, Black Scoter

Conservation Status: There is some uncertainty over the population trend of the White-winged Scoter, but they are possibly in decline. However, the IUCN considers the White-winged Scoter to be a species of "least concern", as population trends are not currently considered severe enough to warrant a less favorable status.

Further Information: 1) BirdWeb - White-winged Scoter

2) WhatBird - White-winged Scoter

3) Audubon Guide - White-winged Scoter

Photo Information: January, 2004 -- Barnegat Inlet, New Jersey -- Chris Davidson


Click on the range map for a higher-resolution view
Range Map - White-winged Scoter
South Dakota Status: Casual to accidental in migration and in winter.

Additional White-winged Scoter Photos (coming soon!)