Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Black Scoter - Melanitta americana
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General Comments The Black Scoter streams southward over the inshore ocean in Oct and Nov, and an observer can at times see over 1,000 birds in a day. However, most of these birds winter on the ocean off South Carolina and Georgia, leaving North Carolina with only modest numbers for the winter season. Small to moderate numbers of this species and the more numerous Surf Scoter can usually be found on many of the ferry crossings in the state. As with the other scoters, the Black Scoter also drops down onto inland lakes during migration, almost always for a very brief stay. Most wintering birds forage on Pamlico Sound, less so on the lower portions of the Pamlico and Neuse rivers. Small numbers also forage in the inshore ocean, and it is the scoter most often seen along the southern coast. As with other scoters, it seldom is found on freshwater impoundments and other ponds in coastal areas.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank S4N
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Winter resident. Common to abundant southbound migrant over the ocean, but by Dec only a fairly common to occasionally common species, wintering mainly in Pamlico Sound; uncommon to fairly common along the southern coast, mainly on the ocean. Accidental farther inland, with a solo record of one at Goldsboro, 31 Oct 1987. Early Oct to late Apr, with numerous records of stragglers in each of the intervening months. Peak counts: 12,000 in southbound migration from Jennette's Pier (Dare), 21 Nov 2023; 6,000, Fort Fisher (New Hanover), 27 Oct 1992; 5,000, off Cape Hatteras Point (Dare), 4 Dec 2021; 2,815, Cape Hatteras CBC, 30 Dec 2002.
Piedmont Transient. Rare, almost always at larger lakes/reservoirs; late Oct to mid-Dec, with only two reports otherwise, from late Mar and early May. Peak counts: 10, Lake Townsend (Guilford), 28 Oct 2022; 8, Falls Lake, 8 Nov 2003; 7, Jordan Lake, 2 Nov 2022; 6, Lake Townsend, 11 Dec 1993; 6, Lookout Shoals Lake (Catawba), 31 Oct 2015.
Mountains Transient. Surprisingly scarce, being very rare, with just nine records: 1, Lake Julian (Buncombe), 10 Nov 2004; 1, Trout Lake (Watauga), 20 Mar 2005; an excellent 4 at Lake Julian, 3 Nov 2018; 1, Price Lake (Watauga), 8 Nov 2019; another excellent count of 5 at Lake Julian, 1 Nov 2020; 1 at this last lake on 27-30 Nov 2020; an inland record 18 at Lake Julian (Buncombe) on 5 Nov 2022; 7 at Ecusta Pond (Transylvania) on 11 Nov 2023; and one at Lake Julian on 20 Nov 2023.
Finding Tips The species can usually be seen from the two Pamlico Sound ferries -- Swan Quarter or Cedar Island; numbers typically average a few dozen per trip, but the species can be missed. You might be able to see several thousand flying south over the ocean in late Oct or early Nov. In winter, a few can usually be seen flying over the ocean or resting and feeding in the ocean, but this can be unpredictable. A few birds will often come in to piers to feed around the pilings, for a close view.
Attribution LeGrand[2024-02-08], LeGrand[2023-03-17], LeGrand[2023-03-02]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
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