Melanitta nigra (Linnaeus, 1758)
Family: Anseriformes > Anatidae
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.
Select a topic for more facts and statistics about the Common Scoter
Common Scoter identification is often straightforward. The following article may help when identifying Common Scoter.
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.
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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).
|UK winter population||+95% increase (1995/96 to 2020/21)|
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
|No. occupied in breeding season||24|
|% occupied in breeding season||0.8|
|No. occupied in winter||602|
|% occupied in winter||20|
European Distribution Map
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
|% change in range in breeding season (1968–72 to 2008–11)||-50%|
|% change in range in winter (1981–84 to 2007–11)||+40.5%|
Common Scoters are most abundant in winter but can be seen throughout the year, with early returning breeders appearing from July onwards.
Information about movement and migration based on online bird portals (e.g. BirdTrack), Ringing schemes and tracking studies.
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
|Maximum Age from Ringing||13 years 2 months 27 days (set in 2009)|
|Typical Lifespan||6 years with breeding typically at 2 year|
|Adult Survival||0.783 ( Female: 0.783±0.032)|
|Field Codes||2-letter: CX | 5-letter code: COMSC | Euring: 2130|
For information in another language (where available) click on a linked name
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.
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