Velvet Scoter - Melanitta fusca
Status: Endangered … Populations have declined by 60% since the early 90s
Location: Breeds in Scandinavia and western Russia, and winters mostly in the Baltic Sea, as well as the Atlantic coasts of Western Europe and the Mediterranean.
Size: A typical adult is 51-58cm long.
Habitat: Coastal seas, but breeds on land within 100m of water.
Main Threats: The velvet scoter is undergoing a very rapid population decline across its range. Surveys indicate 50-60% declines in over-wintering populations since the early 1990s, particularly in the Baltic Sea, and the total adult population is thought to number about 250,000.
Due to long periods spent at sea during the winter, the velvet scoter is vulnerable to environmental pollution such as oil spills, marine litter or entanglement in fishing nets. Moulting and wintering concentrations of this species are very susceptible to oil spills and other marine pollutants - an oil spill could destroy a large proportion of the global population if it occurred in a key moulting or wintering area. Velvet scoter are also susceptible to the effects of benthic (sea-bed) fisheries such as scallop dredging, which destroy important foraging habitats such as mussel beds. Breeding populations can also be significantly affected by introduced predators such as the American mink.
The velvet scoter is the largest sea duck of the scoter family. The drake (the male) is recognized by a white patch around the eye, whilst the duck (the female) is brown, however both the drake and the duck possess white wing patches earning them their other name - ‘Whitewing’. Scoters feed mainly on shellfish and crustaceans caught whilst diving on the seabed.
Velvet scoters nest on land but never far from water, and prefer cosy locations protected from the elements, such as vegetated, rocky islands, wooded coasts and wooded lake shores. The nest is a shallow depression positioned on the ground in tall grass, among hummocks or under bushes, in which 8-10 eggs are laid. Velvet scoters are highly migratory. They don’t breed in the UK, but are a winter visitor to the east coast. About 2,500 velvet scoters are believed to over-winter off the UK’s North Sea shores, where they mix with flocks of over-wintering common scoters. They are regularly spotted off the coast of Norfolk and often within the boundaries of the proposed MCZ at Cromer Shoals.
Velvet scoter are flightless for 3-4 weeks whilst moulting
Did you know?
- When over-wintering, velvet scoters are highly sociable and can occur in large flocks of several thousand individuals.
- Whilst moulting, both male and female velvet scoters cannot fly for about 3-4 weeks at a time.
- Before the eggs have been successfully incubated, male velvet scoters lose interest in their mates, leaving the females to bring up the ducklings alone.
What MCS is doing:
- Working towards better protection of velvet scoter wintering habitats in the UK, such as the Cromer Shoals MCZ;
- Working towards better management of fisheries that impact velvet scoter prey;
- Combating marine litter and other forms of pollution that threaten seabirds like the velvet scoter.