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Common Scoter

A sea duck often seen off of the Dorset coast in winter

Photograph by: 
Gerry Shilham

Common scoter (Melanitta nigra) are not unusual in Dorset in winter and there are always reports of them but in my experience they are often particularly difficult to see. This is because they are a sea duck coming only occasionally to estuaries or large lakes and lagoons near the coast. Most often they are some distance off shore and they continually go out of sight as they bob up and down on the waves or dive in search of food; they are usually just far off black specs on the water! However, all is not lost as they tend to gather in rafts and so there are several to see but they are also quite mobile and often fly together and that is when they are at their most obvious.  

Common scoter are winter visitors seeking relief from the harsh conditions in their breeding grounds in northern Europe and in some northern areas of Britain. That said there are frequent sightings in summer too with non-breeding birds moving off shore here. There does not appear to be a pattern in the weekly reports chart but January and April seem to be favourable months for sightings but, in general, there are never a lot of records in a particular period but more consistent reporting over a long period.

There have been reports from Longham Lakes of common scoter but one would normally expect to see them off shore and Portland Bill tends to report them most frequently. Sea watching sessions elsewhere often produce reports too and occasionally they can be seen closer to shore in Portland, Poole and Christchurch harbours and at points along the Fleet.

Once you know what you are looking for, where to look and when to look, adding common scoter to your Dorset list should not be too difficult!



Common Scoter: bobbing up and down like this

Common Name Common Scoter
Scientific Name Melanitta nigra
Species Group Birds Ducks
Status Occasional
Interest Level
  • 01 - January
  • 02 - February
  • 03 - March
  • 04 - April
  • 05 - May
  • 06 - June
  • 07 - July
  • 08 - August
  • 09 - September
  • 10 - October
  • 11 - November
  • 12 - December
Look for

Small black ducks well off shore

Identification Notes
  • Rarely seen close up and most often seen in flight
  • Appear to be small black ducks from a dstance but their profile is different to most other ducks
  • Very difficult to tell apart from the scarcer velvet scoter unless seen at closer quarters 
Primary Habitat
Preferred Environment
Look for
Additional Identification Notes
Similar Species

The records for this species have been organised into reports, charts, maps and photos. Click a pic below to see the detail:

Notebook Distribution Map Sites List Some Charts Some Photographs Recent Records Guidance Notes

To see related species click here: 

Birds Ducks