Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
White-winged Scoter - Melanitta deglandi
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General Comments By far the least common of the scoters along the mid-Atlantic coast, the White-winged Scoter can be a difficult-to-find species in a given winter, as it has no consistent wintering locales in the state. Unlike other scoters, it tends to move southward and northward with the severity of the winter; it can occasionally be numerous for brief periods during extremely cold spells (such as when bays freeze over). As with other scoters, it occasionally drops down onto inland reservoirs and lakes in migration or winter. Along the coast, most birds are seen in flight over the ocean, or feeding in small groups on the inshore ocean itself. Only occasionally is it seen on the sounds and bays, or impoundments, near the coast. An unprecedented flurry of inland records was made in the Jan - Apr 2014 period, likely owing to freeze-over of Great Lakes and other northern lakes, forcing birds to move southward well inland from the coast. A smaller invasion, mainly noted in the western Piedmont, was seen in late winter 2015.

The scientific name of the species was changed from Melanitta fusca in June 2019, owing to a split from Old World forms.

Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank S1N
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Winter visitor. Uncommon and erratic (depending on the severity of the weather) along the immediate coast, south to Cape Hatteras; rare to occasionally uncommon along the southern half of the coast. Rare in the Tidewater zone, such as on bays, sounds, and refuge lakes and impoundments. Very rare (several records in early 2014) on inland lakes in the province. Mid-Oct to mid-Feb, rarely to mid-Apr; a few records May - Sep. Peak counts: 150, Rodanthe, 29 Jan - 14 Feb 1994; 50-60, Pea Island NWR, 30 Oct 1971. A count of 298 on the Bodie-Pea Island CBC in 1989 is rejected, as we suspect most of these were likely Red-breasted Mergansers.
Piedmont Transient and winter visitor. Rare, mainly to larger lakes and reservoirs; late Oct to mid-Mar, with most records of birds seen for one to a few days. Major invasion in winter - spring 2014, with dozens of records during this period; a minor invasion occurred in late winter 2015. Peak counts: 28, Lake Hickory, 8 Feb 2014; 15, Mountain Island Lake (Mecklenburg), 1-2 Feb 2014; 14, Jordan Lake, 5 Jan 2014; 12, Jordan Lake, 26 Jan 2011; 12, Lookout Shoals Lake (Catawba), 6 Jan 2018.
Mountains Transient. Very rare to rare in the southern counties, and unknown as yet from north of Buncombe. At least 14 records known: 5, Lake Julian (Buncombe), 24 Mar 2001; 1, Lakeview Estates (Henderson) on two separate occasions, 27 Jan 2004 and 11 Feb 2011; 1, Lake Julian, 17 Apr 2013; 5 at this last lake, 7 Mar 2014; a record high mountain count of 8 at this lake on 5 Dec 2014; and 1 at this lake on 8 Mar and 26 Mar 2015. Four additional records came in spring 2018, including one quite late on Lake Junaluska (Haywood) on 27 Apr.; one came in spring 2020, another in fall 2020, and one in spring 2023.
Finding Tips This is a tough bird to find in the state, and many birders often require two or three winters to find their first one in the state. Your best bet is to plant yourself and a scope on some dunes, the farther north the better, and ocean watch in winter for an hour or two; scoping from Jennette's Pier in Nags Head (Dare) is also suggested. Most White-wingeds will be seen in flight over the ocean, typically many hundred yards from shore. You might find one occasionally from the Pamlico Sound ferries, or along the southern coast, but most such CBC's miss the species. There are usually a few reported on inland lakes each winter, and thus quickly visit such a lake immediately after hearing of a report.
Attribution LeGrand[2024-02-08], LeGrand[2023-08-09], LeGrand[2023-03-02]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
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