Surf scoter

A beautiful bird with many many names.

Thought I’d focus on a single animal today, the rather handsome surf scoter. To do so, I will take advantage of what has been written before about these birds. Part of the reason is because I find it interesting to see how older descriptions differ from what occurs in modern field guides, with newer ones usually using more inclusive, less coded language.

“Other names: surf duck; surf coot; surfer; sea coot; bay coot; gray coot; brown coot; box coot; spectacle coot; butterboat-billed coot; hollow-billed coot; speckle-billed coot; blossom-billed coot; horse-head; horse-head coot; patch-head; patch-head coot; patch-polled coot; white-head; white scop; bald-pate; skunk-head; shunkhead coot; skunk-top; pictured-bill; plaster-bill; Morocco jaw; goggle-nose; snuff-taker.”
Birds of America, Editor in Chief, T. Gilbert Peterson - 1936

“Snuff-taker – 2. The surf scoter or surf duck Oedemia(Pelionetta) perspicillata; so called because the variegated colors of the beak suggest a careless snuff-taker’s nose.”
Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia, (New York: The Century Co, 1897)

“The birds are extemely active during the morning hours and again toward evening, often coming inshore as far as they can without actually hauling out on the beach, and diving for food where aquatic insects, mollusks, worms, crustaceans, and vegetation are numerous. They remain below on such occasions for a longer time than they are on the surface, and apparently emerge for the sole purpose of taking a few good breaths before going down again.” 
Birds of Washington State by Jewett et al - 1953

“I have seen a surf scoter courtship in mid-April. Five males are devoting themselves to one female. They chase each other about viciously, but no harm seems to come of their threats; and they crowd around the female as to force a decision. She In turn chases them off with lowered head and outstretched neck and great show of displeasure. Now and then one flees in pretended fright and with great commotion, only to settle down at a dozen yards and come sidling back. If she will deign a moment's attention, the flattered gallant dips his head and scoots lightly under the surface of the water, showering himself repeatedly with his fluttering wings. One suitor swims about dizzily, half submerged, while another rises from the water repeatedly, apparently to show the fair one how little assistance he requires from his feet in starting, a challenge some of his corpulent rivals dare not accept, I ween. I have watched them thus for half an hour, off and on, and the villains still pursue her.”
Birds of Washington, vol 2, William Leon Dawson - 1909

“They are usually tough customers either in life or at the table. Most of our cooks believe it impossible to so prepare this birds as to make it decent for any but a starving man…” If you have cooked one, the author writes, which generally requires an excess of onions, apparently you have two options: “either throw your delicate morsel away or give it to someone against whom you hold an ancient grudge…”
Feathered Game of the Northeast, Walter H. Rich - 1907

“The birds are so attuned to the appearance of herring eggs that a team of Canadian and United States biologists coined the phrase silver wave to describe how the migration of surf scoters corresponds with the location and spawning of the silver fish…The birds were consuming the eggs, or what the researchers described as “easily accessible, high-energy, lipid-rich food,” to fatten up for their migration.”
Homewaters by me - 2021


Wow, the ball is starting to roll for Homewaters. Here are links to a couple of interviews/stories.

My Northwest with Feliks Banel. Learn about the very very cute geoduck baby.

Encyclopedia of Puget Sound - A discussion with the editor Jeff Rice.

Homewaters is now available in stores and through my website, which gets you an autograph.