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The white-winged scoter is a large coastal duck. Despite its name, the duck is mostly black or brown but is distinguished by a patch of white on its wings. This type of duck is one of five species of scoters. They are referred to as sea ducks because of their preference for staying near the ocean during the winter months.
Of all this particular species, the white-winged scoter is the largest, weighing anywhere from 2 to 5 pounds (about 950 to 2,129 grams) and growing up to 24 inches (about 60 cm) long. The males and females are distinguished by their different appearances. A male white-winged scoter is generally larger than a female and is all black with a white crescent under each eye. The female duck is generally a dark, muddy brown with two white patches next to her eyes. In flight, a white patch is visible on the interior of the wing feathers, thus giving the ducks their name.
Both the male and female white-winged scoters have large beaks that are characterized by a prominent black knob at the base. Their beaks, however, are colored differently. The male’s beak has yellow or reddish sides and an orange tip, while the female’s beak is mostly dark gray with a red hue. Another unique feature between the male and female white-winged scoters is the eyes. The female’s eyes are dark brown, whereas the male’s eyes are a pale white.
Normally, the white-winged scoter nests and breeds near the freshwater lakes and wetlands of Alaska and West-Central Canada. A female generally lays anywhere from five to ten eggs at a time, and the pink-colored eggs usually hatch after about 30 days. The mother duck tends to her young only for about three weeks, after which they are on their own. Ducklings generally learn to fly by the time they are 80 days old.
These scoters tend to spend the winter months near the coastal areas of both the U.S. and Canada and can be found along both the Pacific and Atlantic shore as far south as California and North Carolina. Their diet normally consists of crustaceans and mollusks, including crabs, clams, and mussels. The ducks also eat insects, small fish, and some types of vegetation. Most of their food is gotten by diving into the water and capturing their prey within their large beaks.
Like many ducks, the white-winged scoter travels and nests in large flocks. When in flight, the birds normally use either a straight line or V formation. Their call sounds more like a whistle than the average quack of a duck, and because of their sound, size, and distinctive appearance, many people mistake them for other types of birds when in flight.