Verification of Unusual Sight Record
For Utah

Rec. # 2011-64

Common name:

Black Scoter

Scientific name: Melanitta americana
Date: 19 Nov 2011
Time: 11:50 AM
Length of time observed: 5 min
Number: 1
Sex: Female or immature
Location: Antelope Island Causeway, second (largest) bridge
County: Davis
Elevation: 4,197 ft
Distance to bird: 50 ft.
Optical equipment: Nikon Monarch 10x42 binoculars, Nikon D90 with 80-400mm lens.
Weather: Sunny
Light Conditions: Light behind bird, but bird was close enough to see details well in the near, shadowed side of the bird. Details were more visible in life than in photographs, which capture a more narrow range of tones than the human eye.
Description:        Size of bird: Medium-sized duck, larger than nearby Ruddy Ducks.
(Description:)       Basic Shape: Duck shape.
(Description:)  Overall Pattern: Dark brownish black.
(Description:)            Bill Type: Duck bill.
Field Marks and
Identifying Characteristics:
Generally a solid dark brownish-black duck, but with paler cheeks. Pale cheeks began just beneath the eye, and continued down to the upper part of the neck. Forehead met bill at an angle; did not blend into bill in profile.
(see photo A and video)
Song or call & method of delivery: None observed.
Behavior: Sitting on the water.
Habitat: Great Salt Lake just south of the largest bridge on the Antelope Island Causeway.
Similar species and how
were they eliminated:
Other scoters eliminated by the lack of distinct white patches on the face and by the distinctiveness of the bill in profile: more duck-like, distinct from a rounded head, and not a continuous slope from crown to bill. Larger than Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser, and Ruddy Duck (the latter present for direct comparison). Pale patch on side of head extended too far down the face, to the upper neck, for Hooded Merganser or Bufflehead. Eclipse male Ruddy Duck probably the most difficult to eliminate, but this bird had a flat-topped head (not rounded as in Ruddy Duck), was too large for Ruddy Duck (in direct comparison), and had a thinner bill that met the forehead at a more dramatic angle than the Ruddy Duck's, where the bill slopes subtly into the forehead.

I believe there are no known field marks for distinguishing female or immature Black Scoter (Melanitta americana) from the recently-split Common Scoter (Melanitta nigra sensu stricto). These are separated based on genetics, call characteristics, and morphology of breeding males. There are currently no records of Common Scoter from the Americas. The three males with photographs on the Utah Birds website all appear to be Black Scoter (M. americana). I have assumed that this was the expected M. americana, but this record should maybe be considered M. americana/M. nigra, since there is no known way to distinguish these species in silent immatures or females.

Previous experience with
this & similar species:
According to my records in eBird, I have observed at least 29 Black Scoters on seven other occassions. I have seen the other species of scoter and Ruddy Duck many other times.
References consulted: Sibley Guide to Birds
Description from: Notes taken at time of sighting
Observer: Ryan P. O'Donnell
Observer's address: 1098 Crescent Dr, Logan
Observer's e-mail address:
Other observers who independently identified this bird: Seen on Bridgerland Audubon Society field trip with Craig Fosdick, Andrew Durso, Allen Stokes, and three others whose names I've forgotten.
Date prepared: 23 Nov 2011
Additional material: Photo and Video
Additional_Comments: Short digiscoped video is available.