First Sighting of a Black Scoter in Ireland

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News that a very rare visitor was spotted on Rossbeigh Beach, the first in Ireland, brought Bird Watchers from all around the world to Glenbeigh to try and capture a photo of The Black Scoter duck or American scoter (Melanitta americana). reported “On Thursday 8 January, Davey Farrar was on his way out to Reenard for a spot of ‘gulling’ when he stopped at ‘Mountain Stage’, near Rossbeigh, and saw a scoter within a small Common Scoter flock that showed a lot of yellow on the bill.” The black scoter is a large sea duck, 43 to 49 cm (17 to 19 in) in length. Together with the common scoter M. nigra, it forms the subgenus Oidemia; the two are sometimes considered conspecific, the black scoter then being referred to as M. nigra americana. Its French name, used in parts of its Canadian range, is macreuse noire (also meaning “black scoter”).

1280px-Melanitta_americana_Barnegat_NJ-300x164The adult female averages about 980 g (2.16 lb) and 45 cm (18 in) in length, while the adult male is on average 1,100 g (2.4 lb) and 49 cm (19 in)  in length. It is characterised by its bulky shape and large bill. The male is all black with a very bulbous bill which is mostly yellow. The female is  a brown bird with pale cheeks, very similar to female common scoter.

This species can be distinguished from other scoters, apart from common scoter, by the lack of white anywhere on the drake, and the more  extensive pale areas on the female.

Photo By: Peter Massas (Barnegat Inlet N.J. ,Black Scoter) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


This species dives for crustaceans and molluscs while migrating or wintering on the sea-coasts, and feeds on insects and their larvae, especially caddisflies, fish eggs and, more rarely, vegetation such as duck weed while nesting on freshwater. It forms large flocks on suitable coastal waters in winter quarters. These are tightly packed, and the birds tend to take off together; in the breeding season they are less social. It has been suggested that in coastal waters this species prefers sheltered embayments, and possibly waters that include some mixed depths.

The lined nest is built on the ground close to the sea, lakes or rivers, in woodland or tundra. 5–7 eggs are laid. Each eggs weighs from 60–74 g (2.1–2.6 oz), or 8% of the females body weight. The incubation period may range from 27 to 31 days. Females brood their young extensively for about 3 weeks, after which the still flightless young must fend for themselves.

The male performs a diagnostic downward head movement when stretching his wings.