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Common Scoter Melanitta nigra
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This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). There are conflicting data on the species's population trend, but until wider survey data are available the species is regarded as not declining sufficiently rapidly to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern. If surveys do not locate the numbers that appeared to be missing from the Baltic Sea in recent years (2007-2009), this species is likely to qualify for uplisting.

Taxonomic source(s)
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.
Livezey, B. C. 1995. Phylogeny and evolutionary ecology of modern seaducks (Anatidae: Mergini). Condor 97(1): 233-255.

Taxonomic note
Melanitta nigra has been split into Melanitta nigra and M. americana following a review of recent literature (Livezey 1995, Garner et al. 2004, Sangster et al. 2005, Collinson et al. 2006

Distribution and population
Melanitta nigra breeds in Iceland, eastern Greenland (Denmark) and northern United Kingdom, across Scandinavia and northern parts of western and central Russia (e.g. Collinson et al. 2006). It winters in the Baltic Sea, off the Atlantic coast of Europe and North Africa, south to Mauritania, and in the western Mediterranean (del Hoyo et al. 1992, Delany and Scott 2006).

Population justification
The total population has been estimated to number 1,600,000 individuals (Delany and Scott 2006), which probably includes c.1,070,000 mature individuals, assuming that they account for around 2/3 of the population.

Trend justification
An analysis of the population trend in the Baltic Sea suggests that a decline of 47.4% occurred between 1988-1993, when a total of c.783,000 birds wintered there, and 2007-2009, when c.412,000 birds were counted (Skov et al. 2011). Extrapolation of these data suggests that this is equivalent to a decline of c.55% over three generations (23 years, based on a generation length of c.7.5 years [BirdLife International unpubl. data]). However, data from other sources contradict this apparent decline. Data on passage migrants in the Gulf of Finland are not indicative of a decline, with stable or positive trends observed since the 1970s (M. Ellermaa in litt. 2012, A. Lehikoinen et al. in litt. 2012). Numbers breeding in Finland appear to have been stable or to have increased slightly since the 1990s (M. Ellermaa in litt. 2012, A. Lehikoinen et al. in litt. 2012), with the same trend in Sweden since the 1970s (per N. Holmqvist in litt. 2012). These conflicting data sets imply that a large proportion of the wintering population could have shifted to the North Sea (M. Ellermaa in litt. 2012). This theory is supported by increased numbers in British waters during the winter of 2009/2010 (M. Hancock in litt. 2012).

Behaviour This species is strongly migratory (del Hoyo et al. 1992) and often travels considerable distances over land making brief stop-overs on inland waters (Madge and Burn 1988). It arrives on its breeding grounds between late-April and May and breeds from late-May onwards (Madge and Burn 1988) in highly dispersed (Kear 2005) solitary pairs (del Hoyo et al. 1992). After mating (from June onwards) males migrate long distances prior to their flightless moult, most travelling in small groups to inshore or offshore coastal waters (Madge and Burn 1988). Females and juveniles leave the breeding grounds in September (Madge and Burn 1988). The species is highly gregarious when not breeding (Madge and Burn 1988) with males forming large congregations during the flightless moulting period (Kear 2005) and large flocks of several hundred to a thousand (Snow and Perrins 1998) or occasionally over 100, 000 individuals occurring during winter (Scott and Rose 1996). Non-breeders often oversummer on the wintering grounds (Madge and Burn 1988). Habitat Breeding The species breeds on Arctic dwarf heath (Snow and Perrins 1998, Kear 2005) or boggy tundra on pools, small lakes, streams (del Hoyo et al. 1992) and slow-flowing rivers (Snow and Perrins 1998). It shows a preference for freshwater habitats (del Hoyo et al. 1992) with low banks (Flint et al. 1984), small islets (Kear 2005) and high abundances of aquatic invertebrate and plant life positioned in swampy valleys or among mossy bogs (Flint et al. 1984), especially where suitable shrubs (e.g. willow or birch) and herbaceous vegetation are available for nesting cover (Johnsgard 1978, Snow and Perrins 1998, Kear 2005). It generally avoids areas with steep slopes or wetlands enclosed by forest (Kear 2005). Non-breeding Although the species may use freshwater lakes on migration (Madge and Burn 1988, Kear 2005) the majority moult and overwinter at sea (Kear 2005) on shallow inshore waters less than 20 m deep (Kear 2005) (optimally 5-15 m) (Scott and Rose 1996) with abundant benthic fauna (Kear 2005), generally between 500 m and c.2 km from the shore (Snow and Perrins 1998). Diet Its diet consists predominantly of molluscs, especially during the winter (del Hoyo et al. 1992), although it occasionally takes other aquatic invertebrates such as crustaceans (del Hoyo et al. 1992) (e.g. barnacles and shrimps) (Johnsgard 1978), worms (del Hoyo et al. 1992), echinoderms, isopods, amphidods (Kear 2005) and insects (del Hoyo et al. 1992) (e.g. midges and caddisflies) as well as small fish (del Hoyo et al. 1992) and fish eggs (Snow and Perrins 1998). On the breeding grounds the species may also consume plant matter (del Hoyo et al. 1992) such as seeds, roots and tubers (del Hoyo et al. 1992) and the vegetative parts of aquatic plants (Flint et al. 1984). Breeding site The nest is a scrape on the ground hidden amongst vegetation (del Hoyo et al. 1992) close to water (Madge and Burn 1988, Kear 2005) or placed further away in dwarf heath (Kear 2005).

The large concentrations of this species that occur during the moulting period and in winter are highly vulnerable to oil spills (Gorski et al. 1977, Nikolaeva et al. 2006), chronic oil pollution, human disturbance and the degradation of food resources as a result of oil exploration (Nikolaeva et al. 2006). The species also suffers disturbance from high-speed ferries (Larsen and Laubek 2005) and populations wintering off the coasts of western Europe are threatened by offshore wind farms (Kear 2005, Fox and Petersen 2006, Petersen 2006). The effects of commercial exploitation of benthic shellfish also poses a threat (through competition for food resources) (Kear 2005), and the species's breeding habitats are threatened by eutrophication in some areas (Kear 2005). The species is susceptible to avian influenza so may be threatened by future outbreaks of the virus (Melville and Shortridge 2006). Utilisation The species is hunted in some areas (e.g. Bregnballe et al. 2006) and its eggs used to be (and possibly still are) harvested in Iceland (Gudmundsson 1979).

Bregnballe, T.; Noer, H.; Christensen, T. K.; Clausen, P.; Asferg, T.; Fox, A. D.; Delany, S. 2006. Sustainable hunting of migratory waterbirds: the Danish approach. In: Boere, G.; Galbraith, C., Stroud, D. (ed.), Waterbirds around the world, pp. 854-860. The Stationary Office, Edinburgh, UK.

Collinson, M.; Parkin, D. T.; Knox, A. G.; Sangster, G.; Helbig, A.J. 2006. Species limits within the genus Melanitta, the scoters. British Birds 99: 183-201.

del Hoyo, J.; Elliot, A.; Sargatal, J. 1992. Handbook of the Birds of the World, vol. 1: Ostrich to Ducks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

Delany, S.; Scott, D. 2006. Waterbird population estimates. Wetlands International, Wageningen, The Netherlands.

Flint, V. E.; Boehme, R. L.; Kostin, Y. V.; Kuznetsov, A. A. 1984. A field guide to birds of the USSR. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.

Fox, A. D.; Petersen, I. K. 2006. Assessing the degree of habitat loss to marine birds from the development of offshore wind farms. In: Boere, G.; Galbraith, C., Stroud, D. (ed.), Waterbirds around the world, pp. 801-804. The Stationary Office, Edinburgh, UK.

Gorski, W.; Jakuczun, B.; Nitecki, C.; Petryna, A. 1977. Investigation of oil pollution on the Polish Baltic coast in 1974-1975. Przeglad Zoologiczny 21(1): 20-23.

Gudmundsson, F. 1979. The past status and exploitation of the Myvatn waterfowl populations. Oikos 32((1-2)): 232-249.

Johnsgard, P. A. 1978. Ducks, geese and swans of the World. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London.

Kear, J. 2005. Ducks, geese and swans volume 2: species accounts (Cairina to Mergus). Oxford University Press, Oxford, U.K.

Larsen, J. K.; Laubek, B. 2005. Disturbance effects of high-speed ferries on wintering sea ducks. Wildfowl 55: 99-116.

Madge, S.; Burn, H. 1988. Wildfowl. Christopher Helm, London.

Melville, D. S.; Shortridge, K. F. 2006. Migratory waterbirds and avian influenza in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway with particular reference to the 2003-2004 H5N1 outbreak. In: Boere, G.; Galbraith, C., Stroud, D. (ed.), Waterbirds around the world, pp. 432-438. The Stationary Office, Edinburgh, UK.

Nikolaeva, N. G.; Spiridonov, V. A.; Krasnov, Y. V. 2006. Existing and proposed marine protected areas and their relevance for seabird conservation: a case study in the Barents Sea region. In: Boere, G.; Galbraith, C., Stroud, D. (ed.), Waterbirds around the world, pp. 743-749. The Stationary Office, Edinburgh, UK.

Petersen, I. K. 2006. Revision of Danish EU Bird Directive SPAs in relation to the development of an offshore wind farm: a case study. In: Boere, G.; Galbraith, C., Stroud, D. (ed.), Waterbirds around the world, pp. 750-751. The Stationary Office, Edinburgh, UK.

Scott, D. A.; Rose, P. M. 1996. Atlas of Anatidae populations in Africa and western Eurasia. Wetlands International, Wageningen, Netherlands.

Skov, H.; Heinänen, S.; Žydelis, R.; Bellebaum, J.; Bzoma, S.; Dagys, M.; Durinck, J.; Garthe, S.; Grishanov, G.; Hario, M.; Kieckbusch, J. K.; Kube, J.; Kuresoo, A.; Larsson, K.; Luigujoe, L.; Meissner, W.; Nehls, H. W.; Nilsson, L.; Petersen, I. K.; Roos, M. M.; Pihl, S.; Sonntag, N.; Stock, A.; Stipniece, A. 2011. Waterbird Populations and Pressures in the Baltic Sea. Nordic Council of Ministers, Copenhagen.

Snow, D. W.; Perrins, C. M. 1998. The Birds of the Western Palearctic vol. 1: Non-Passerines. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Further web sources of information
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Text account compilers
Butchart, S., Calvert, R., Ekstrom, J., Malpas, L., Taylor, J.

Bellebaum, J., Below, A., Bianki, V., Ellermaa, M., Hancock, M., Hario, M., Holmqvist, N., Kharitonov, S., Kharitonova, I., Kontiokorpi, J., Lehikoinen, A., Lehikoinen, E., Lehtiniemi, T., Mikkola-Roos, M., Mineev, O., Mineev, Y., Pessa, J., Pihl, S., Raj

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Melanitta nigra. Downloaded from on 24/07/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 24/07/2016.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Common scoter (Melanitta nigra) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Least Concern
Family Anatidae (Ducks, Geese, Swans)
Species name author (Linnaeus, 1758)
Population size mature individuals
Population trend Unknown
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 4,370,000 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species
- 2015 European Red List assessment