Common Scoter

Melanitta nigra (Linnaeus, 1758) CX COMSC 2130
Family: Anseriformes > Anatidae

Common Scoter, Scott Mayson

This dark seaduck, which lacks any white in the wing, has small breeding populations in Scotland and Ireland. It is more familiar as a coastal and marine species outside of the breeding season.

Our small breeding population is restricted to a few larger lochs in Inverness-shire and Perthshire, parts of the Flow Country in north-east Scotland and a handful of loughs in western Ireland.

Large moulting flocks, involving birds from other breeding populations, form from summer into early autumn, often at traditional sites off Scotland's eastern coast and in Carmarthen Bay in Wales.


Common Scoter identification is often straightforward. The following article may help when identifying Common Scoter.

related video

Identifying Scoters

Scoters are known to most of us as winter visitors, usually far off shore. How can we tell the difference between the species, when we see them far out to sea in poor viewing conditions? It's surprisingly easy!


Listen to example recordings of the main vocalisations of Common Scoter, provided by xeno-canto contributors.


Develop your bird ID skills with our training courses

Our interactive online courses are a great way to develop your bird identification skills, whether you're new to the hobby or a competent birder looking to hone your abilities.

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Status and Trends

Population size and trends and patterns of distribution based on BTO surveys and atlases with data collected by BTO volunteers.


This species can be found on the following statutory and conservation listings and schedules.



Although a widespread winter visitors to offshore UK waters, Common Scoter is a scarce breeding species with around 50 pairs breeding in northern Scotland; the species is monitored by the RBBP and the population trend is considered stable over the 25 years to 2019 (Eaton et al. 2021). However, it should be noted that the estimate of 52 pairs from the last national survey in 2007 represented a decline from the 95 pairs found during the previous survey in 1995 (Holling et al. 2010).


Although small numbers breed in Britain & Ireland, the Common Scoter is to most birdwatchers a familiar winter visitor, present around much of the British & Irish coastline, though patchily distributed in northwest Ireland and western Scotland. There are also a scatter of inland records throughout central and southeast England that relate to singles or small groups that may turn up following poor weather.

Occupied 10-km squares in UK

European Distribution Map

European Breeding Bird Atlas 2


There has been a 39% winter range expansion since the 1981–84 Winter Atlas, with gains occurring throughout the range. The mixed pattern of gains and losses at inland sites reflects the chance events of migrant or storm-driven individuals dropping in at particular sites.

Change in occupied 10-km squares in the UK


Common Scoters are most abundant in winter but can be seen throughout the year, with early returning breeders appearing from July onwards.

Weekly occurence of Common Scoter from BirdTrack
Weekly occurrence patterns (shaded cells) and reporting rates (vertical bars) based on BirdTrack data. Reporting rates give the likelihood of encountering the species each week.


Information about movement and migration based on online bird portals (e.g. BirdTrack), Ringing schemes and tracking studies.


View a summary of recoveries in the Online Ringing Report.

Foreign locations of birds ringed or recovered in Britain & Ireland

Foreign locations of Common Scoter ringed or recovered in Britain & Ireland
Encountered in: Winter (Nov-Feb); Spring (Mar-Apr); Summer (May-Jul); Autumn (Aug-Oct)


Lifecycle and body size information about Common Scoter, including statistics on nesting, eggs and lifespan based on BTO ringing and nest recording data.



View number ringed each year in the Online Ringing Report


Feather measurements and photos on featherbase


For information in another language (where available) click on a linked name

Gaelic: Lach-bheag-dhubh
Welsh: Môr-hwyaden Ddu
Catalan: ànec negre comú
Czech: turpan cerný
Danish: Sortand
Dutch: Zwarte Zee-eend
Estonian: mustvaeras
Finnish: mustalintu
French: Macreuse noire
German: Trauerente
Hungarian: fekete réce
Icelandic: Hrafnsönd
Irish: Scótar
Italian: Orchetto marino
Latvian: melna pile
Lithuanian: juodoji antis
Norwegian: Svartand
Polish: markaczka (zwyczajna)
Portuguese: negrola
Slovak: turpan cierny
Slovenian: crna raca
Spanish: Negrón común
Swedish: sjöorre


Interpretation and scientific publications about Common Scoter from BTO scientists.


Causes of change

The population trend, and hence the drivers of change, are unclear for this species.

Links to more information from

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