A medium-sized duck (21 inches), the male White-winged Scoter is most easily identified by its black body, white wing patches, and white eye-stripes. The female is dark brown rather than black, but retains this species’ characteristic white wing patches. Duck hunters often refer to scoters as “coots,” although their resemblance to “real” coots is limited to their shared dark body pattern and is entirely superficial. The White-winged Scoter inhabits a large part of the Northern Hemisphere. In the New World, this species breeds in western Canada and Alaska, wintering along the Pacific coast from Alaska south to Baja California, on the Atlantic coast from Newfoundland south to northern Florida, and along the Gulf coast from Florida to Texas. In the Old World (where it is known as the Velvet Scoter), this species breeds in northern Europe and Siberia, wintering along the coast of Western Europe and East Asia. White-winged Scoters breed in ponds and lakes in northern forest near the tree line at the edge of the tundra. In winter, this species may be found in saltwater estuaries, bays, and near-shore waters along the coast. White-winged Scoters primarily eat bottom-dwelling mollusks and crustaceans, but also eat fish and, in summer, insects as well. Due to the relative inaccessibility of this species’ breeding grounds, most birdwatchers are more familiar with White-winged Scoters during the winter. At this time of year, White-winged Scoters are most easily observed out at sea through binoculars or spotting scopes, and may be seen floating in large flocks on the water, diving below the surface in pursuit of prey, or flying in lines over the tops of the waves. This species is primarily active during the day.
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