Saturday, February 05, 2011

A Super Bird: White-winged Scoter at Gloucester Harbor

Three species of scoters frequent the coast of eastern North America: Surf, Black, and White-winged Scoter. Of these three, the first two are very easy to spot in the mid-Atlantic states while the third is relatively uncommon. Because of that, I was pleased to see several White-winged Scoters during my trip to Massachusetts. We found the species for our Superbowl of Birding checklist and saw them at multiple stops. Best of all, one passed very close to Jodrey State Fish Pier while we were standing and watching birds on Sunday morning. It was close enough to get a good look at the white wing patch that inspires its name and the hints of a white marking around the eye.

White-winged Scoters breed in freshwater wetlands in northwestern North America, but spend their winters in coastal waters along both eastern and western North America. Like other bay and sea ducks, White-winged Scoters feed primarily by diving and capturing prey underwater. They dive to the bottom, grab something, and then consume it on the way up. Their food consists of mollusks, crustaceans, and insects. On their winter territories, they mainly eat mollusks, especially rock clams and blue mussels. (Here are a White-winged Scoter eating a clump of mussels and a Surf Scoter eating some kind of mollusk.)

Aside from being a species I do not normally see, this bird was just fun to watch. Here is a video of the White-winged Scoter swimming and diving.